Cloverdale Playhouse: Dead Man’s Cell Phone

By on 28 October, 2016 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

logoAs often as possible, we like to attend the opening night of Cloverdale Playhouse productions, if only so that we can write a review and describe it to readers of Midtown Montgomery Living. For the current production, our lives got busy, and we were unable to attend the show until Thursday evening. That means that if you want to see the show, you’ve only got until Sunday to see it. You certainly should reevaluate your weekend plans and see if there’s any way that you can make it to see “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” but even if you can’t, here are some things from the play (written by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Maureen Costello) that speak to the overall quality of the performances at the Cloverdale Playhouse:

The Cloverdale Playhouse always does a great job with set design. It takes a real skill to create a minimalist suggestion of another location, particularly if multiple sets are needed during a given production. Things have to be portable while allowing for human beings to move around without worrying about bumping into stuff. The volunteer set designers and construction team at the Playhouse built a beautiful diner in this summer’s “Strip Talk on the Boulevard,” and they have once again created a novel and modular series of sets for “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”

They understand things like timing and pace. It’s never fully clear from the outside whether this is a result of solid acting or a good director doing a savvy job of cutting and editing the source material, but it’s probably a combination of both factors. The way dialogue is delivered is crucial for keeping the audience off balance and hanging on the words, and the productions at the Playhouse almost always show that careful consideration has been paid to striking the balance between natural-sounding dialogue and moving the plot along. It certainly helps that they are starting with quality scripts, and “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is a good one, inventive and well-written by a MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer finalist.

The facility is a nice place to see a play. The church pews are modular, and can be arranged to fit the needs of the space. The downstairs concession stand offers the opportunity to grab a soda or a bottle of water during intermission. The acoustics are good, and the sound is always well-managed to properly time audio cues and manage any feedback. The music during the set changes was particularly well-chosen during “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” (shout-out to the Squirrel Nut Zippers).

Montgomery has some surprisingly good actors. Look, we all know that there’s more to acting than simply having watched a lot of actors on television, or being able to do funny voices and accents. But several of the productions at the Playhouse have left us amazed at some of the powerful acting skill on display. Some of these folks could be doing it professionally. Two standout performances from “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” were Michael Buchanan as Dwight and Paul Neace as the titular corpse. The play contains a number of fairly-long monologues, and although it is primarily a comedy, it also covers some rocky emotional terrain as it probes into the barriers that separate people.

Directors are allowed to take risks. There are a few great and unexpected moments in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” where the boundaries are pushed a bit. Lanterns descend from the ceiling during a love scene, and a dimly-lit ballet with umbrellas is used to convey the beauty of the concept of ever-present global conversation. If one of the powers of theater is the ability to make you rethink basic assumptions, the umbrella scene in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” inverts the idea of gossip (or the constrictive tether of the cell phone) and turns it into a brief moment of beauty, “the music of the spheres.”

This is one of the best productions we’ve seen at the Playhouse. Time is running out to see it, and it’s really worth changing your weekend plans around to catch the play. Sometimes the productions run so short there, and it’s easy to think you’ll see it next weekend, but by then it’ll be gone. Make sure to put plays on your calendar now to ensure you’ll get all of the thespian goodness that Midtown has to offer.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, 18 fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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