Staging the conversation

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Just like the title implies, the Theatre Department’s latest production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone was about, well, a dead man’s cell phone. Or rather, it was about how that phone, and technology in general, is a fulcrum for the fragile balance between intimacy and isolation.

Jean, played by Elisabeth Giffin ’12, intercepts a man’s ringing phone when he makes no move to answer it himself. It turns out that the man, played by Christopher Kozlowski ’12, was too busy being dead to pick up. Jean never met the man, Gordon, while he was alive, but she ends up repairing the damaged relationships he left behind while developing some of her own.

Much like Gordon himself, the play left a resonating impact. It explored technology’s paradoxical power to both unite people together and push them apart. After all, the same fiber optic threads that connect us also keep us separated.

“[The play] showed that community can be lost or gained through technology,” observed Jenni Messner ’11, the assistant director. “It’s fluid.”

Assistant Professor of Theatre Mark Seamon selected Dead Man’s Cell Phone, the latest work of two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl, because of its connection with this year’s Spectrum Series theme of “Technology and Community,” intended to explore the ways in which technology is redefining the communities to which we belong, as well as our relationships within those communities.

The cast of Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Pictured front, left: Assistant Professor of Theatre Mark Seamon.

Even after the actors took their final bow, Seamon continued the play’s conversation around campus. He recently dropped by Associate Professor of English Lisa McDonnell’s contemporary drama class to discuss the dichotomy of technology in this play.

“When Jean smashes the cell phone, I think Ruhl is saying that human relationships are ultimately more important,” mused Marjorie Kimball ’11, a student in that class who played Gordon’s frosty window.

“But the phone also brought Jean together with people,” noted Seamon, acting as the impromptu devil’s advocate.

The class also discussed how the production itself represented the duality of technology. As the play’s director, Seamon “wrapped the stage in a digital canvas.” A series of screens twisted up high above the stage and were omnipresent even when they weren’t being used, just like technology itself. In contrast, café tables and living room chairs softened the electronic edge and gave the stage a more organic, communal vibe.

“Embracing technology while telling a story is better than just simply telling a story about technology,” explained Seamon.

The verdict may still be out on technology in general, but at least a play about it seemed to foster community.

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