Dead Man's Cell Phone: Theater spotlight

Mrs. Gottlieb (Linda Kelsey), Jean (Carolyn Pool) and Hermia (Karen Wiese-Thompson)
Petronella Ytsma

The setup for Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone is straightforward: In a café a woman named Jean (Carolyn Pool) looks up, annoyed, from her soup because, across the room, a man's cell phone keeps ringing and he won't pick it up. He's busy taking a dirt nap, as you may have gleaned from the title. But it's what follows that's more difficult to relay, and this Matt Sciple-directed production fills in only some of the blanks. Jean is tremulous and passive, although Pool conveys the way in which she falls in love with the phone owner's corpse, worming herself deeper into his life with each ringtone. First Jean attends the man's funeral (his name, it turns out, was Gordon), where his mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (an arch and anarchic Linda Kelsey), delivers a batshit-insane eulogy. Then it's off to Gordon's house, where she meets his widow, Hermia (Karen Wiese-Thompson, a riot in the second act), and his brother Dwight (John Middleton). Sparks fly between Jean and Dwight, and the next thing you know they're cuddled up under a long sheet of paper at his stationery store. In the second act Middleton leads off doing double duty, this time playing Gordon and delivering an acerbic, absolutely gripping monologue about the man's last day on earth. There's no shortage of brain-tickling fun in Ruhl's script, and the performers all offer distinctive takes on their characters. At times they feel like they're each in a different play, though, and while this is a reasonable way to deliver this wooly and off-kilter story, the effect leads one to notice the seams rather than the whole. When Gordon's occupation before his demise is revealed (let's say it's illegal—very illegal), it leads to Jean taking a madcap trip across the globe that should raise the surreal stakes, but which instead comes across as forced. A nice ending takes place largely in the afterlife, pulling together themes of love and truth, but only just. Dead Man's Cell Phone is by no means a miss, it's just hard to tell what it's aiming at. $15-$40. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul; 651.291.7005. Through May 2

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