A while ago I watched playwright Eve Ensler talk on Youtube series “TED Talks about “embracing the inner girl. It strikes one as a cheesy idea, to own up to one’s own romantic, soft, vulnerable side.
So it is perhaps with some measure of embarrassment that when young female audience members tell him during intermission about the moments that made them coo, Frank Bradley wonders if he hasn’t gone and made a “chick play.
Despite its grim title, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone, currently playing at the New Campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC), is a comedy about a girl’s encounter with a dead man at a café. Answering his cell phone sets her on a track to smoothing over a series of relations that he’s left upset.
Berfu Nisan Turkmenoglu is aptly cast as the protagonist Jean, a character who herself is thrust into acting out the role of someone privy to Gordon, the dead man’s, last thoughts. Out of an endearing kindness, Jean is given to making up elaborate messages to people whom she meets after answering his cell phone. Turkmenoglu’s plainclothes look and everyday manner make her approachable and believable, and thus easy to like.
Director Bradley said he sensed “a woman’s spirit all through the production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Yet, the humor appealed to both sexes, and men and women laughed at completely different lines, Bradley noted. When Jean asks Gordon assume the pose in which he died again, he says “Whatever turns you on, causing more men than women to laugh.
Written by Sarah Ruhl, the play’s dialogue is crisp with honest, articulate, and unembarrassed emotion. True to this spirit (what Ensler coined as “embracing the inner girl ), the play is brightened by the choice of feel-good music, replete with moments that create a stillness that is all the more palpable in a theater with an audience of 122 seats.
The play makes intelligent use of minimalist set design, with an ensemble adding and rearranging furniture and music to perfect the ambience. White panels in the background serve as multipurpose backgrounds: serving as walls when depicting a room or a café. To depict an airport, departure times are shown on the same white panels, airplanes taking off or landing are heard, and baggage is shown with a sign displaying “Lost Luggage.
As early as the first scene where Jean first encounters Gordon’s dead body sitting on a table across from her, her words strike one as earnest and charming. “How did you die so quietly? she asks Gordon, and promises what could – and later is proven to be – a declaration of love, “I’ll stay with you.For as long as you need me.
In his afterlife, Gordon’s words are equally delectable. In a long monologue, he describes his love for lobster bisque and his desire to have it at the café. He discovers the very last order of the meal has been served, and sits across the girl, Jean, who had it.
A rising chest pain hits him. With the awareness that he will soon die, he scrambles to remember a woman he loves. Looking over at Jean he says, “she looks like an angel – not like a bitch at all – and I think – good, good -I’m glad she had the last bite. I’m glad.
Nezar Alderazi, who plays Gordon, transforms the character in that moment from an unlikable organ-trafficker to a man turned unselfish by love.
The magic is more undisguised in other instances. In one of the most sumptuous moments in the play, where Dwight, Gordon’s brother, and Jean discover a new-found love at a stationary shop, paper origami floats over their heads, and bits of paper fall on them like rain.
With as much acceptance, you laugh off that Gordon’s mother Mrs. Gottlieb walks into a live barbeque as her other son, Dwight, looks on. Noha Elkholy, a returning student at AUC who plays Mrs. Gottlieb, breathes comedy into the play, her every onstage appearance amusing the audience.
Sarah Diaa, an audience member reviewing the play for the AUC paper Caravan, was startled at the staging of kisses in the play, especially as it was staged in Egypt and some in the audience were with children. In conversation with Diaa, Bradley said he would nevertheless choose to stay true to the play first. “And these were sweet kisses.
Asked whether he was uncomfortable with the kissing, actor, Adham Haddara, who plays Dwight, said “Not at all.
“Frank, the director, created a very comfortable atmosphere, said Haddara, “It felt part of the show.
While the kissing may have come naturally, Haddara’s performance was less believable than that of other characters, and at times his mannerisms appeared more exaggerated. Or perhaps it was just that Elkohly and Turkmenoglu stole the show that night.
It is a chick’s play, after all! Go on, watch it, and embrace your inner girl!
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone will continue to be performed from March 8-11 at 7 p.m. at AUC’s Gerhart Theater in New Cairo. For reservations, call 0121721526 or 26154108. For information about buses to and from New Campus and Downtown, call 0121721526 or 26154108.