Actors on stage with umbrellas
UMBRELLAS Cast members Matt Farrell, Skylar Saltz and Tom Gibson all have roles in ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone,’ now playing at the Raven Theater.(Photo by Ray Mabry)

At a recent performance of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, one audience member was heard to murmur to her seatmate, “Is this funny? I think it’s sad,” while other audience members chuckled. The Raven Players production runs through May 26 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg.

It’s a fair question. The title, which reads like it was ripped off of a modern pulp fiction novel, might make a person think one thing, the play itself another. The truth is it has moments of both humor and pathos.

Jean (Jeanette Seisdedos) is sitting at a table at a nondescript café when a cell phone chimes at the table next to hers. The gentleman at the table (Thomas Gibson) appears to ignore it, much to Jean’s consternation. She gets up to address the situation only to discover (and there’s no need for a spoiler alert as it’s in the title) that the gentleman is dead.

On impulse, Jean picks up the phone and answers the call. Rather than tell the caller of the gentleman’s unfortunate passing, she merely responds that he’s “unavailable.” Other calls come in, and she continues to obfuscate the situation. She eventually calls for an ambulance, but keeps the cell phone.

Actors in 'Dead Man's Cell Phone)
HEAR THAT? Cast members Mary DeLorenzo and Jeanette Seisdedos enjoy a drink in a cafe before all hell breaks out in ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone,’ now at the Raven Theater. (Photo by Ray Mabry)

The device leads Jean to forging (in every sense of the word) relationships with the dead man’s mother (Lynn Stevenson), his wife (Mary DeLorenzo), his female friend (Skylar Saltz) and, most importantly for Jean, his stationery-loving brother (Matt Farrell).

This all happens in a fairly linear manner, but when the second act opens with a monologue by the corpse, a trip to purgatory and a choreographed number featuring the entire cast, all bets are off as to what the hell is really going on here.

The play, which premiered in 2007, may have been a prescient warning that despite the informational benefits a cell phone provides, there’s a price to pay in the disconnection from actual human contact.

Director Diane Bailey has a cast of Raven regulars at work here, with Farrell’s performance of note as the brother of his mother’s “only son.” Skylar Saltz has some fun as the “other” woman and a “business” associate of the dead man.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone is an odd play that will not be to everyone’s taste. If you do see it and can figure out what the hell the ballet is about, give me a call. My cell phone number is [number redacted].

‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ runs through May 26 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thu–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $10–$25. 707.433.6335.

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