The Hindu | Calling the tune (A review of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ at Ranga Shankara)
Dead Man’s Cell Phone was a funny surreal take on the omnipresence of technology in our lives
– Rhea Subramanya
The first play in Jagriti’s season 2013, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, came to Ranga Shankara last week. Written by American playwright Sarah Ruhl in 2007, the play is a funny and surreal take on the increasing omnipresence of technology, specifically cell phones, in today’s world.
It wittily explores paradoxes: how technology unites and isolates, and how free will and fate are often intertwined. Through comedy, it raises one of the deep philosophical issues of the 21st century, the battle between technological and holistic progress. Can the two run parallel? Jagriti attempted to find an answer. Even before the play started, the audience was exposed to a slowly rising cacophony of sound, the background noise of a cafe, the setting of the first scene.
Difficult to differentiate
So ubiquitous was the sound that it was hard to discern real from stage before Gautham Raja’s deft handling of the lighting came into play. From the gradual blackout at the beginning of the play to the partly candle-lit funeral scene, the lighting complemented the performers.
The cast that included Arundhati Raja, made Dead Man’s Cell Phone a treat. The story follows what happens after a lady in a café, Jean, picks up a dead man’s cell phone. Not having one of her own, she decides to keep it. She begins picking up his calls, interacting with his family and colleagues and gradually becoming a part of his world. Her construction of his character in her mind, stands in stark contrast to his actual life, revealed later. However, the ending was a bit of an anti-climax, neither sustaining the pace of the play nor living up to the plot’s promise.
However, Anju Alva Naik as Jean, is a treat to watch. Effortlessly humourous, she progressed from the woman in control to one under control before attempting to reclaim her independence from technology. Arundhati as Mrs. Gottlieb, the dead man’s mother was outstanding. She was just the right balance between loving and overbearing.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone asked pertinent questions of nostalgia and privacy. There’s the scene where Jean, who works at a Holocaust museum, explains of her job that it was good to remember. And you’re left wondering whether she’s actually referring to simpler days that are quickly becoming more distant.
Intimate moments between Dwight, the dead man’s brother, and Jean are interrupted by the ringing of the cell phone. The relatable scenes detailed the extreme invasion that the device made in our lives.
Ironically enough, despite the theme of the play and the repeated requests before its commencement regarding the cell phone, one lady’s phone rang loudly and clearly in the midst of the performance, almost as if in protest.
Directed by Vivek Madan, the play isn’t just a Luddite’s advocate. It questions the principles of which the current and future tech-savvy societies are being built on. All the characters in the play stand on shaky moral ground. From Jean, who fabricates an individual out of thin air, to Gordon, the dead man with a rather unsavoury occupation, the distinction between good and bad is not just blurred, it’s downright absent.
Read as it appeared in The Hindu here.
Jagriti is a Performance Arts space dedicated to Theatre, Music, Dance and Comedy. Founded in 2011 by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, the space has hosted several productions from India and around the world. A 200-seat theatre, built around a full-thrust stage, it is fully equipped to cater to both artistes and audience. The main stage is designed for intimate performances, with adjoining spaces for informal lectures and gatherings, and an attached restaurant. Jagriti is owned and operated by the not-for-profit ART Foundation, a registered charitable trust.
The Rooftop - above the main auditorium is an open-to-sky space with a staging area that can accommodate about 50 people. A raised and walled off platform can work as a perfect area for puppet theatre. The Rooftop has a restroom and a pantry.
The Terrace - alongside the auditorium, the Terrace can accommodate about 20 people as an informal gathering area.
Lumbini - extending out from the foyer, Lumbini has a stage and an open-to-sky terraced space for about 80 people.