Studio Production III's newest production, "Dead Man's Cellphone," left its audiences to ponder the effect of technology on personal relationships. The play ended its run Feb. 12, closing to a full house in the Cousins Studio Theatre.
The story follows Jean, who happens to be at a cafe when a man dies from a heart attack. His cellphone continues to ring and by picking it up, Jean becomes mixed up in the dead man's circumstances, meeting his widow Hermia, his mother Mrs. Gottlieb and his mistress Carlotta.
Through all this, she falls in love with the dead man's brother, Dwight. The dead man himself, Gordon Gottlieb, makes an appearance in the play when he reveals his last moments to the audience.
"I think of 'Dead Man's Cellphone' as a dark comedy about two misfits who somehow manage to find love in a world where face-to-face connection is becoming extinct," said junior Chelsea Radigan, the director. "There is a big juxtaposition set up in the play between technology and paper, where the former is impersonal and isolating and the latter is freeing, emotional and pure.
"I could not have been happier working with the cast. It was such a blessing that everyone got along. Each cast member brought not only talent, but a very positive and hard-working energy that inspired me at every rehearsal."
The original play, written by Sarah Ruhl, debuted in Washington, D.C., in 2007.
"I tried to stay as true to the script as possible," Radigan said. "We didn't cut any lines, but I also didn't do much research on previous productions, as I didn't want any of my choices to be influenced by other directors or designers."
Among the lighting and special effects, the set design was the most challenging element of production to tackle, she said. It was a process that underwent many changes before reaching its final stage.
"Shelby Brown, our set designer, was truly visionary in her concept," Radigan said. "Act I was constructed by a grid of EL wire on the stage floor [usually wherever Gordon's cell phone was on the stage dictated which box was lit up for each scene]. Act II consisted of seven platforms, which originally took inspiration from Dante's Divine Comedy and the seven layers of Purgatory. The plot and script required some special scenic elements so an abstract concept was appropriate."
'Dead Man's Cellphone' was Radigan's first time directing a project on her own, and she overcame several challenges before presenting it to the Richmond community, she said.
"The script itself doesn't contain many stage directions, so it was largely up to my own interpretation," she said. "I also had the tendency to get wrapped up in these complicated ideas regarding the set design. However, those ideas didn't always service what was in the script. I had to keep going back to the script and asking myself, 'What is the action of this scene? What do the characters want from each other? What is at its essence?'"
One of the scenes from the play was the "Paper Ballet," a dance sequence performed after Dwight and Jean's first kiss.
"In the beginning, my partner for the 'Paper Ballet,' Kadeem, and I worked with the choreographer, Camden Cantwell, to create the choreography for each dance number," said freshman Meagan Rodriguez , one of the dancers. "We focused on moves emphasizing touch and rediscovering human interactions. The "Cell Phone" ballet was the opposite of this, as it focused on being disconnected from those in our lives."
After most of the choreography was established, the dancers began rehearsal with the rest of the cast, she said.
"They're all so great and talented," Rodriguez said. "In between scenes, we would be goofy and sing songs like 'Girl Talk.' Chelsea Radigan, Kimi Hugli, Becky Silverman, and the rest of the PS III team are fantastic and I look forward to hopefully working with them again."
Sophomore Maggie McGrann attended the show Friday night and said she had enjoyed it. She said she was impressed by the quality of the acting and admired the technical aspects of this year's play. However, McGrann said she had felt the production had one flaw.
"I was a little annoyed with some of the layers upon layers of meaning that I saw all over the place in this production," she said. "Mainly because I knew what they were getting at, but I'm not sure the rest of the audience did. I had to read the play twice and I've discussed it with members of the class as well as professors in my theatre classes, so I know what it was getting at more or less. But if the majority of the audience doesn't take away those meanings, what did you do the play for?"
Dead Man's Cellphone was performed Feb. 9 through Feb. 12.
Contact reporter Sheetal Babu at email@example.com