In today’s day and age, cell phones have become a necessity for many college students. Students use their phones to call their roommates and friends when they’re stressed or need help, keep track of their day-to-day tasks with digital calendars, and answer their queries with the press of a button. Dead Man’s Cell Phone serves as a reminder that the more people become connected through phones, the more they personally disconnect from one another.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone, written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Lily Telegdy, LSEHD ’23, is a look into the mental spiral of Jean (Abigail Wachter, MCAS ’25) as she finds the cell phone of a dead man, Gordon (Benjamin Burke, MCAS ’25). After going through his phone, Jean becomes obsessed with fixing Gordon’s wrongdoings from his past life.
The theme throughout the play is that interconnectedness through phones leads to disconnected people. The theme is supported by ironic and often funny acting that is propped up by clever lights and sound.
Once Jean finds Gordon’s phone, she reaches out to many of his contacts. Whenever Jean tries to connect with them, she’s always interrupted by her own cell phone in one way or another.
Early on in the play, Jean attends Gordon’s funeral because she was the last person with him before he died. Gordon’s mother (Leah Temple Lang, LSEHD ’23) is giving Gordon’s eulogy before she is quickly interrupted by Gordon’s phone ringing on Jean’s person. She tries to carry on and just as she’s getting emotional again, Gordon’s phone rings a second time.
Temple Lang sets the comedic tone of the scene by initially shaming the audience—who functioned as the audience of the funeral—with a straight face for going on their phones when they go to the bathroom.
The fact that a eulogy is being interrupted by Jean in possession of Gordon’s phone isn’t lost on the audience. Jean is carrying on Gordon’s livelihood with his cell phone at the cost of genuine human connection. Gordon does not get a respectful and peaceful funeral thanks to Jean.
A similar scene occurs when Jean is trying to have a romantic moment with Gordon’s brother, Dwight (Jack Krukiel, LSEHD ’25). Krukiel embodied Dwight’s presence as a socially awkward introvert with weird quirks and mannerisms.
Despite Dwight’s character, he and Jean form a close bond after they connect thanks to Gordon’s phone. As the two are leaning in for a kiss, Gordon’s phone rings. After multiple missed calls, Jean can’t help but answer the phone and ruin her own romance.
The cell phone gets in the way of grief and love, but it also brings Jean the opportunity to meet all of these new people to begin with. There’s a duality between the connection people expect and the disruption they don’t always see.
In the romantic scene between Dwight and Jean, the light was especially important to express the multitude of emotions present as they kissed and were abruptly interrupted by Gordon’s cell phone.
Sophia Lombardo, MCAS ’23, is the light director for the play. She said she designs the lighting based on how she believes the scene should be interpreted.
“I wanted to bring everyone in close with them,” Lombardo said. “I created just like a kind of a single orb of light around them, so it felt like we were there with them and I had like warm tones. When they kissed … I had these like flashing lights on the side to kind of show how their love like exploded all around them.”
Similarly, the sound was an effective way to emphasize the dual nature of cell phones. One scene in particular, affectionately known as “The Cell Phone Ballet”, utilized a chaotic sound tape of voices and sounds. The tape was paired with a performance of peaceful, illuminated umbrellas on stage that floated gracefully throughout the chaos.
“We knew that the cellphone ballet wanted to definitely be a little different,” Bailee Herrera, sound director of Dead Man’s Cell Phone and MCAS ’23, said. “I listened to a lot of music and then what I did was, we took recordings of all of the cast members saying different phrases that you would hear over a cell phone.”
Herrera included a mix of foreign phrases, random words, and music in the tape to get pure chaos. There were so many connected elements that could be heard, but the audience was disconnected from any formal understanding, which is more of what the play says about connection and disconnection at the hands of cell phones.