Flames lick the American dream in Aurora’s Detroit

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The cast of Aurora Theatre Company’s Detroit, (from left) Patrick Kelly Jones, Amy Resnick, Luisa Frasconi and Jeff Garrett, has a wild, neighborly backyard barbecue in the Bay Area premiere of Lisa D’Amour’s play. Below: The neighbors ignite a backyard bonfire. Photos by David Allen

There’s a particular kind of fear that grips those who have all the things we’re “supposed” to have – jobs, houses, marriages, ideals. The fear, of course, is not in the having of it all but in the potential loss of it all (or even in part). That brutal terrain shaped by anxiety is the real setting of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, now receiving its Bay Area premiere from Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company.

There’s no indication that this four-person comedy/drama is actually set in the Motor City, but that’s as good a place as any to dive into the state of the American dream as defined by an economy that has all but destroyed a major American city. D’Amour’s story could unfold anywhere, in any suburban enclave that was built to house the hopes and dreams of families making better lives for themselves but is now crumbling and full of people isolating themselves from one another.

There are laughs to be sure in this 100-minute show, beautifully directed by Josh Costello and performed by an engrossing cast of actors, but the laughs come from a dark place shaped by our most primal fears of being abandoned by all that defines us and imbues our lives with meaning. It’s not easy to tread the line between laughs/entertainment and profound existential dread, but D’Amour does it, and Costello and his cast are right there with her.

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At a certain point in life, usually when you’re settled and entrenched in a career and a marriage, it gets harder to make new friends. That’s what’s initially so intriguing about “Detroit,” which has an older married couple, Mary (Amy Resnick) and Ben (Jeff Garrett) hosting a welcome barbecue for a younger couple that has just moved in next door. Sharon (Luisa Frasconi) and Kenny (Patrick Kelly Jones) arrive with plenty of baggage, but, curiously, with no furniture, very few clothes and a certain aua of mystery about them. Still, Ben and Mary are hungry for new relationships. Ben is especially adrift, having been laid off from his loan officer job, but he’s hopeful about starting his own online consulting business and is teaching himself how to build a website.

Mary longs for a civilized life (she serves caviar at a barbecue) and a friend to whom she can unburden herself. She hopes that Sharon will be that person. A midnight meltdown in the backyard tests that burgeoning friendship and reveals that Mary may have something of a drinking problem.

Amid musings on why neighbors don’t interact anymore and how there’s no longer any such thing as real communication, the two couples bond – somewhat awkwardly to be sure, but they’re definitely getting to know each other and all the good and (some of) the bad that entails.

There’s a real sense of momentum leading up to a barbecue that, with its hip-hop dancing and sexual surprises, turns rather primal rather quickly. To say the couples’ friendship sparks some flames would be an understatement. This extraordinary scene – so powerfully played by the superb cast – is funny and deep…and a little scary (it’s also nicely staged with the help of set designer Mikiko Uesugi and lighting designer Kurt Landisman).

The play really ends there, but D’Amour tacks on an unnecessary coda that requires one of the actors to play a new character. The scene provides some additional information that’s interesting, but it doesn’t really work as an ending, at least not the ending a play this potent deserves.

But it’s a testament to just how rich and disturbing this work (and this production) is that even a misstep at the end can’t detract from the fact that Detroit, laughs and all, exposes just how nightmarish the great American dream can be.

Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit continues an extended run through July 26 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

2013: The year’s best Bay Area theater

2013 (third try)

If you’re looking for the year’s best, you can shorten your search by heading directly to Word for Word, that ever-amazing group that turns short works of fiction into some of the most captivating theater we see around here. This year, we were graced with two outstanding Word for Word productions.

You Know When the Men Are Gone – Word for Word’s first show of the year was based on two excellent stories by Siobhan Fallon. We are a country at war, and as such, we can never be reminded too often about the sacrificed made not only by the men and women serving in harm’s way but also the families and friends they leave behind. These connected stories, masterfully directed by Joel Mullenix and Amy Kossow, created a direct, emotional through line into the heart of an experience we need to know more about. Read my review here.

In Friendship – A few months later, Word for Word returned to celebrate its 20th anniversary by casting the nine founding women in several stories by Zona Gale about small-town, Midwestern life. It was pleasure from start to finish, with the added emotional tug of watching the founders of this extraordinary company acting together for the first time. Read my review here.

Campo Santo, Intersection for the Arts and California Shakespeare Theater collaborated this year on an intimate epic about the Golden State we call home comprising three plays, art projects, symposia and all kinds of assorted projects. This kind of collaboration among companies is exactly the kind of thing we need to infuse the art form with new energy and perspectives. The best of the three theatrical offerings was the first.

The River – Playwright Richard Montoya authored the first two plays in this collaboration, and though the Cal Shakes-produced American Night was wild and enjoyable, Montoya’s The River, directed by Sean San José had the irresistible pull of a fast-moving current. A truly original work, the play was part comedy, part romance, part spiritual exploration. Read my review here.

Ideation – My favorite new play of the year is from local scribe Aaron Loeb because it was fresh, funny and a thriller that actually has some thrills. Part of San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series for new play development, Ideation is still in search of the perfect ending, but you can expect to hear much more about this taut drama of corporate intrigue and interpersonal nightmares. Read my review here.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane – The combination of heartbreaking personal history and heart-expanding piano music made this Berkeley Repertory Theatre presentation the year’s best solo show. Mona Golabek tells the story of her mother’s exit from Germany as part of the Kindertransport includes all the horror and sadness you’d expect from a Holocaust story, but her telling of it is underscored by her exquisite piano playing. Read my review here.

Other Desert CitiesTheatreWorks demonstrated the eternal appeal of a well-told family drama with this Jon Robin Baitz play about Palm Springs Republicans, their lefty-liberal children and the secrets they all keep. This one also happens to have the most beautiful set of the year as well (by Alexander Dodge). Read my review here.

The Fourth MessengerTanya Shaffer and Vienna Tang created a beguiling new musical (no easy feat) about Buddha (absolutely no easy feat). The show’s world premiere wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good. Expect big things from this show as it continues to grow into its greatness. Read my review here.

Good People – Any play starring Amy Resnick has a good chance of ending up on my year’s best list, but Resnick was beyond great in this David Lindsay Abaire drama at Marin Theatre Company. Her Margie was the complex center of this shifting, surprising story of old friends whose lives went in very different directions, only to reconnect at a key moment. Read my review here.

The Taming – One of the year’s smartest, slyest, most enjoyable evenings came from Crowded Fire Theatre and busy, busy local playwright Lauren Gunderson. This spin (inspired by The Taming of the Shrew) was madcap with a sharp, satiric edge and featured delicious comic performances by Kathryn Zdan, Marilee Talkington and Marilet Martinez. Read my review here.

Terminus – Oh so dark and oh so very strange, Mark O’Rowe’s return to the Magic Theatre found him exploring theatrical storytelling that encompassed everyday lie, mythic monsters and rhymed dialogue. Director Jon Tracy and his remarkable trio of actors (Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie and Carl Lumbly) grabbed our attention and didn’t let it go for nearly two hours. Read my review here.

No Man’s Land – Seems a little unfair to include this production here if only because the can’t-miss team of Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart would likely be a year’s best no matter where they were performing or what they were doing. In this case, they were headed to Broadway but stopped at Berkeley Rep to work on Harold Pinter’s enigmatic comic drama. Their work (along with that of Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley) provided laughs and insight and complexity where you didn’t know any was possible. Pure master class from start to finish. Read my review here.

Breakout star of the year: Megan Trout. It was impossible not to be transfixed by Megan Trout not once but twice this year. She illuminated the stage as Bonnie Parker in the Mark Jackson-directed Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun Players and then stole the show in the Aurora Theatre Company’s A Bright New Boise as a shy big-box store employee who is mightily intrigued by the new guy who also happens to have been involved with a now-defunct cult. Trout has that magnetic ability to compel attention and then deliver something utterly real and constantly surprising.

Good People is good theater at Marin Theatre Co.

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Jamie Jones (left) is Jean, Amy Resnick (center) is Margie and Anne Darragh is Dottie in the Bay Area premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People at Marin Theatre Company. Below: ZZ Moor (left) as Kate, Resnick as Margie and Mark Anderson Phillips as Mike sort through some uncomfortable details of the past (and present). Photos by Ed Smith

There’s something to be said for a play that is simply good. Not earth shattering or even profound. It may not take the form of drama in new and exciting directions or reinvent the notion of entertainment, but a good play does indeed entertain.

David Lindsay-Abaire is a smart, funny, compassionate writer who makes good plays (and happens to have a Pulitzer Prize on his shelf for the play Rabbit Hole). They have depth and feeling and almost always a good laugh or two (or three). His most recent arrival in the Bay Area is Good People, a slice-of-life comedy/drama receiving its local premiere as the season-opener for Marin Theatre Company.

And here’s what’s really interesting: not only is the play about something – choices, luck and the American class system – but also manages to be heartfelt, thoroughly entertaining and, at times, even a little unsettling. How can you not be unsettled when talking about our unspoken but very real class system? We all know the basic rules but seldom acknowledge the realities outside of that great American myth involving hard work, boot straps and ultimate reward.

The play itself, set in Lindsay-Abaire’s native South Boston and Chestnut Hill, apparently one of Bean Town’s tonier suburbs, acknowledges that hard work is important when aiming to escape one’s hardscrabble roots, but it also posits that luck has an awful lot to do with it. Those who make good choices and rise above their humble beginnings may have had more luck than those for whom such choices didn’t ever exist.

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That’s essentially the difference between Mike (Mark Anderson Phillips), a successful doctor, and Margaret (Amy Resnick). They both grew up in the rough Lower End part of Southie. He had a working father who looked out for him and helped push him in the right direction – to college, then medical school and on to a successful career. She, on the other hand, got pregnant, dropped out of high school and devoted her life to raising a disabled daughter on her own and bouncing from one bad job to another.

Hard up for a job after being fired from her cashier gig at the Dollar Depot, Margie (as she’s called by her friends – with hard “g”) takes desperate action. It’s been 30 years since she’s seen Mikey, but she figures what the hell and crashes his office to see if he might offer her some sort of job.

The scenes between Resnick and Phillips are incredibly satisfying, both in the writing and performance. Margie and Mikey have a bond created by the old neighborhood. He got out, she’s stuck there, so that bond is a tricky one. He’s one of the “haves” now and she’s a “have not,” or as he says, he’s “comfortable.” “I guess that makes me uncomfortable,” Margie retorts. That’s the thing about these two – Margie is self-deprecating and calls herself stupid, as if that’s the reason she got trapped and he escaped. But Margie is sharp and up front. She really pushes Mikey’s buttons (“I’m just bustin’ balls,” she says. “It’s how I do.”), and it’s fun to watch him squirm, especially when the action shifts to his lovely suburban home and his wife (ZZ Moor) is there to amp up the intensity and discomfort and, ultimately, the honesty.

Resnick, long one of the Bay Area’s most reliable actors, is remarkable here, so real and thoughtful. Margie can be quite funny, but credit Lindsay-Abaire and Resnick for making the humor come from someplace honest and more than a little heartbreaking. One of the most sustained and rewarding laughs I’ve heard in a theater in a long time came in Act 2 on opening night. The lines themselves don’t really amount to much, but context and delivery are everything. Mikey asks a simple question, but it’s suffused with class implications, and Margie’s straightforward answer pierces right to the core of their differences and puts them on equal footing. Phillips, another Bay Area stalwart, is grounded and complicated as Mikey and is well matched with Resnick.

Credit director Tracy Young for guiding her strong cast with a sure hand. Some of the supporting characters – Margie’s friends Jean (Jamie Jones) and Dottie (Anne Darragh) and her former boss, Stevie (Ben Euphrat) – verge on the precipice of stereotype or caricature, but these actors are too good to let that happen.

Good People climbs up on a soapbox for a bit to allow two basically good people to demonize each other briefly before calming down and acknowledging that bad choices do get made, luck is sporadic but greedily consumed and that the lives we live are precarious no matter if we’re “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.”

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People continues through Sept. 15 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $37-$58. Call 415-388-5288 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

Four hot bodies heat up Aurora’s Body Awareness

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The cast of Aurora Theatre Company’s Body Awareness includes (from left) Howard Swain, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Amy Resnick and Patrick Russell. Below: Cohen and Swain prepare for a body awareness photo session. Photos by David Allen

Drama in the small college town of Shirley, Vermont, is much like it is anywhere: small, intimate and, for the people involved, earth shattering.

Playwright Annie Baker, one of the theater world’s most acclaimed and buzzed-about writers, has a particular skill in writing about the lives of ordinary people. She’s acutely aware of the comic absurdity and the fissures of sadness and anger that clash continually and cause tremors, both minor and majorly damaging.

Baker is a humane and very funny writer, and the Bay Area is finally getting a taste of her talent in the Aurora Theatre Company’s utterly delightful production of her Body Awareness. In true Aurora form, the production gives us a meaty play and performances by a quartet of Bay Area actors that defy you to find a false moment in this up-close and intimate space.

Baker is taking a sideways look at the essential and uniquely individual nature of family. She gives us a non-traditional family and quickly throws it into crisis.

Jeri Lynn Cohen is Joyce, a high school teacher and mom in her mid-50s whose son, Jared (Patrick Russell) is likely dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome, but he’s never been diagnosed, let alone spent time with a psychologist. Joyce was married to Jared’s dad but has taken a different turn in middle age. She’s now partnered with Phyllis (Amy Resnick), a psychology professor at the local university.

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Phyllis is one of the organizers of the university’s Body Awareness Week (formerly Eating Disorder Awareness Week), and to “celebrate” and create dialogue and otherwise create all that activity that empowered academics so cherish, she and her organizing crew have invited an array of guests artists, from a Palestinian dance troupe to a puppet theater, to discuss all aspects of body awareness.

One of those visitors – not one of Phyllis’ choosing – is Frank (Howard Swain), a photographer who shoots nude women of all ages. Because it’s a small university, guests are housed at professors’ homes, and Frank is staying with Phyllis, Joyce and Jared. It’s the perfect storm as Jared fights his parental figures and Frank appears as an inspired artist to Joyce and a loathsome misogynist pervert to Phyllis.

Director Joy Carlin gets such delicious performances from her actors, it’s hard to know where to begin in praising them. Resnick’s ability to play reality and comedy at the same time makes her the perfect actor for a Baker script. Phyllis could so easily come off as a ridiculously pompous academic, but Resnick keeps her grounded and her intellectual foibles within the realm of (very funny) reality.

Cohen is a superb foil for Resnick. She’s part pragmatist and part yearning earth mother. When she gets it in her head that she’d like Frank to photograph her, Phyllis is so repelled she threatens to end the relationship. Cohen’s reaction as Joyce is a wonder – surprise, hurt, defiance and a yearning to make everything right without sacrificing what she thinks is right for her.

It’s wonderfully complex, all of it, and these actors handle it with ease. Swain is downright goofy in a role that could easily be crass and repellent. His Frank has warmth occasionally cooled by ego but also genuine concern fueled by compassion.

And Russell, an ACT Master of Fine Arts graduate, is astonishing as he conveys Jared’s tortured interior life. He’s a young man smart enough to know not everything is right with him but afraid to do anything with that knowledge. His flashes of anger toward his mother are jolting but understandable. This is a sensitive, highly PC household, so flashes of unrestrained anger have a certain welcome appeal.

Carlin deftly keeps the action lively for the play’s 90 minutes and never lets the rhythms fall into predictable, sitcom beats. She keeps the humor at the forefront, which only makes the real-life drama of it that much more pronounced, especially at the end, when Baker allows the notion of family to define itself.

Body Awareness traffics in jealousy and devotion, maturity and folly, pomposity and true love. In its low-key brilliance, the play serves to heighten awareness – body and otherwise.


Annie Baker’s Body Awareness continues an extended run through March 11 as part of the Aurora Theatre Company’s Global Age Project. 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $30-$48. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

Aurora premiere bridges gap between comedy and Collapse

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Amy Resnick as Susan does an upward facing dog during a conversation with Gabriel Marin as David and Carrie Paff as Hannah in Allison Moore’s Collapse at the Aurora Theatre Company. Below: Aldo Billingslea is the enigmatic Ted, a stranger who gets to know Paff’s Hannah. Photos by David Allen


Sometimes things collapse. Sometimes buildings and bridges, things that are built to physically support us. And sometimes marriages and families, things that are meant to sustain and bolster us, crumble as well.

Both kinds of ruin are examined – sometimes to hilarious comic effect – in Allison Moore’s Collapse, a rolling world premiere at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company. The concept of a rolling premiere is essentially a collaboration, in this case with the National New Play Network and Curious Theatre in Denver and Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas.

Director Jessica Heidt’s sharp, wildly entertaining production begins on rather a sly note. She has pitched her actors to an extreme level of discomfort, yet their goal is to appear perfectly normal and happy. It’s a total sitcom situation – living room set and all – as David (Gabriel Marin) attempts to inject the posterior of his wife, Hannah (Carrie Paff), with fertility drugs. Their chipper anxiety about the fertility process is masking something else. We don’t know what, but we sense it’s serious. He’s drinking too much, she’s worried about being laid off from her legal firm and there’s a shadow looming over their relationship.

The sitcom rhythms continue with the arrival of Hannah’s kooky sister from California, Susan (Amy Resnick) – why do all the kooks have to be from California? Sure enough, this one almost immediately announces her life as crumbled, so she’s moving back home to Minneapolis and will crash with her sister and brother-in-law for the foreseeable future. Then she starts doing yoga.

There’s nothing wrong with sitcom rhythms when they’re done well – and this trio of actors is superb. But there’s more to Moore’s play than what first appears. This is a rollicking comedy with decidedly serious undertones, and before too long, it feels like a drama – a beautifully written and produced drama – more than it does a sitcom. And that’s a wonderful thing.

The shadow looming over Hannah and David is actually, physically looming over them in Melpomene Katakalos’ set design. In addition to the spare settings for a living room, a diner or a support group, the intimate Aurora space is filled with pieces of a bridge – Minneapolis’ I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River, to be exact, the one that collapsed in August of 2007 and killed 13 and injured 145.

That horrific accident affected Hannah and David personally, and they have spent the last year and a half (the play is set in 2009) confronting and avoiding the issue, but mostly suffering through their own personal and matrimonial hell.

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Hannah is so on edge that when she meets the enigmatic Ted (Aldo Billingslea) at a support group meeting, she immediately falls under this Southerner’s spell. Is he a nice guy or a master manipulator? It’s hard to tell, and Billingslea’s smoothly sexy performance makes it almost impossible to know for sure. Listen to him croon, “Oh, I will be your bulldog” and you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for people from Georgia.

It’s amazing that from under the rubble of a collapsed bridge, a collapsed economy and collapsing relationships that Moore can find any laughs, but there are plenty in this brisk but fully satisfying 80-minute one-act. There’s silliness skittering over some serious darkness, but the play never feels frivolous. Those sitcom stereotypes that we see at the start of the show, deepen into richer characters than we might expect. Even Susan, the kook, whose every laugh is mined by the brilliant Resnick, earns our sympathy. Her West Coast spiritual facade is a kind of armor she wears to combat the constant string of failures in her life. She means well and will likely continue stumbling through the years, opening herself to the “universal flow.”

And Paff and Marin show us the real pain stabbing Hannah and David, and the real affection that brought them together in the first place. There’s a good marriage between good people at stake here, and you feel that acutely by play’s end. Things may collapse, but they can also be rebuilt.


Allison Moore’s Collapse continues through March 6 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $34-$45. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.

Review: `Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

Opened May 9, 2009 at SF Playhouse

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Jackson Davis and Amy Resnick are Dwight and Jean, two lovers awash in a sea of cynicism, stationery and sentiment in Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone at SF Playhouse. Photos by Zabrina Tipton.

In Ruhl’s quirky `Phone,’ we get the message

There are few things more enjoyable, theatrically speaking, than watching Amy Resnick on stage. The veteran Bay Area actor fascinates, compels and entertains in ways entirely her own. She’s completely reliable and always surprising.

In Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, now at the SF Playhouse, Resnick has found an ideal role: Jean, a seemingly nondescript woman who happens to be in a café eating lobster bisque when the guy next to her ups and dies. When his cell phone keeps ringing, she answers it and, in a manner of speaking, finds her calling. Jean is a blank slate, quite literally. Here’s what we find out about her life over the course of the play’s two hours: she reads in cafes, she likes lobster bisque, she’s a vegetarian (one that apparently eats shellfish), she’s a little bit religious, she occasionally goes to the pharmacy, she works in the office of a Holocaust museum and she is titillated by the feel of quality stationery.

Oh, and Jean lies. With good intentions.

In some ways, Ruhl’s play is like a Frank Capra movie. Jean is sort of an angel who wants to reassure the people in the dead man’s life – his name was Gordon, he did something really creepy and immoral for a living – that Gordon was a good man who, despite his behavior, really and truly loved and valued them. The only way she can do that is by lying to them, making up Gordon’s good intentions. She presents gifts he supposedly wanted his mother, his widow and his brother to have. She tells the widow and the mistress exactly what they want to hear to make them think Gordon loved them sexually and emotionally.

It’s extraordinary how much she lies – and how much her lies mean.

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But this isn’t Frank Capra, and Jean is not a kindly spirit helping Gordon get his angel’s wings. This is a Sarah Ruhl play, which means it’s a peculiar play in the best sense. We’ve seen Ruhl’s work at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (the exquisite Eurydice and, more recently, the fascinating In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play) and at TheatreWorks (The Clean House). She’s one of the hottest playwrights in the country and for good reason. Her work is like nothing on television. She’s a deeply intelligent and emotional writer unafraid of connecting with her audience. Dead Man’s Cell Phone (also being done at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this season) is Ruhl working in a lighter vein, but there’s still an undercurrent of darkness, and she’s unafraid, even in a quirky romantic comedy such as this, to indulge her fascination with death and the afterlife.

Ruhl’s work is all about connection, or lack thereof, and in Dead Man, she focuses in on cell phones. Jean describes not having a cell before she “inherited” Gordon’s because she liked to “disappear.” “But it’s like when everyone has their cell phone on, no one is there. It’s like we’re all disappearing the more we’re there.”

Jean is something of an innocent – perhaps psychologically damaged, we don’t know – and Resnick imbues this cipher with a rich inner life. There’s much about Jean we don’t know, but with Resnick inhabiting her skin, we know all we need to know about her compassion, her depth of feeling, her best intentions, her sentimentality.

Ruhl courts sentiment here as a defense. The play’s most touching scenes are between Resnick’s Jean and Jackson Davis as Dwight, Gordon’s brother. The two bond over caramel popcorn then visit Dwight’s stationery store, where they promptly fall in love. Dwight likes that she’s sentimental. “No one wants to remember anything,” he says. “I want to remember everything,” Jean answers, “even other people’s memories.”

Dwight hates the digital world because it’s so impermanent. “All the digital…stuff…the information bits..flying through the air. No one wants to remember People say I love you on cell phones and where does it go? No paper. Remembering requires paper.”

Ruhl is an extraordinary writer, and her brilliance rings throughout Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Director Susi Damilano’s efficient production can’t quite overcome the moments when Ruhl runs out of imagination in the second act – Jean ends up, improbably, in Johannesburg and then with Gordon in sort of a heavenly way station. Some of the smaller roles don’t quite land because the comic/dramatic tone of the play keeps shifting.

Joan Mankin, as Gordon’s mother, delivers a hilariously heartbreaking eulogy about vaulted ceilings and using cell phones on the toilet, and Rachel Klyce as Gordon’s widow gets a fun drunken scene with Resnick that turns on sexual frustration.

SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English, who also plays Gordon, designed the set, which had a few stumbles on opening night. Ruhl’s plays require a fluid, almost cinematic production with highly theatrical flourishes, and while the intimacy of SF Playhouse is great for actors like Resnick, the small space can sometimes cramp the ambitions of the play itself.

Even with the uneven second act, Dead Man’s Cell Phone rights itself by the end, and the final scene (involving Resnick and Jackson, naturally) is one of the most potent in recent memory, sentimentality and all.


Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone continues through June 13 at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40. Call 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org for information.


Bill English and Susi Damilano have announced the 2009-10 SF Playhouse season, which will be themed as “The Power of Laughter.”

  • The world premiere of Billy Aronson’s First Day of School directed by Chris Smith (Sept. 23-Nov.)
  • David Greenspan’s She Stoops to Comedy directed by Mark Rucker (Nov. 18-Jan. 8 )
  • Amy Glazer directs a play TBA (Jan. 20-Feb. 27)
  • Stephen Adley Guirgis’ Den of Thieves director TBA (March 10-April 17)
  • Allison Moore’s Slasher, director TBA (April 28-June 5)
  • Terrence McNally and David Yazbek’s musical The Full Monty (June 16-Sept. 5)