NFCT shines light on a dark comedy

‘Cell Phone’ is served
Alan Stewart (from left) with Schmoupy Juntunen and Laura Pace in a scene from ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone,’ the Sarah Ruhl play that opens tonight at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck, with performances continuing Thursdays-Sundays through Sept. 26. Check calendar listings for details.

You’re sitting in a cafà trying to enjoy a lovely bowl of lobster bisque when your neighbor’s cell phone starts to ring. Loudly. “Ah, the world is changing,” you might think to yourself, and continue with your soup. The phone rings again. A frisson of irritation shivers down your back. The phone rings again. And again. And again. And the boorish lout at the next table just sits there staring into his soup. Something must be done.

And so begins the antic romp that is “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Sarah Ruhl’s six-person ensemble comedy currently running at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

When Jean, our protagonist, decides to answer the phone of the man sitting at the next table, it leads her directly down the rabbit hole into another world, the macabre life of Gordon Gottlieb. As Jean — amiably loopy with a good deal of earnest comic appeal as played by Deborah Marshall — meets each of the players in Gordon’s life, she finds a mission of sorts. Each one of them has been hurt deeply in some way by this man. What is a girl armed only with a cell phone and an empty bowl of soup to do?

We have all probably had some kind of run-in with manners (or lack thereof) regarding new technology. When is it OK to answer your cell phone? It tends to ring at the most inopportune moments. “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” asks the question in many different guises. Is it OK to answer someone else’s phone? What if he’s dead? What about at a memorial service? Or mid-embrace? And, is he really dead if he’s still getting calls?

We meet a cast of characters that, while comic and wacky, are also recognizable enough to have pathos. We feel for Gordon’s exotic bird of a mother played with a lot of marvelous eccentricity by Yvonne Korshak. As time goes on, this performance will deepen to a real star turn. Gordon’s funny, acerbic, drunken wife, Hermia, is played with much vulnerability by Schmoupy Juntunen, who manages to capture the hard-bitten drunk with the heart of a marshmallow.

The heartbreakingly sweet brother is played by the very talented and versatile Alan Stewart. He brings what could be a thankless role to life and by the end has us rooting for “the man who loves stationery.” And the vampish mistress played by Laura Pace has appeal in her super-spy mysterious way. She is beautiful and dangerous and will find the fun and humor in the role to go even farther with it, I’m sure.

The cast of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is a delight. I feel like I’m giving something away if I say too much about Jim Navarre’s spooky-weird, compelling performance. So I won’t, except to say, “Well done!”

The ensemble works together in a way that makes it seem they have been together much longer than the few short weeks they had to rehearse this whirling dervish of a play. For this we must credit the director, Shawn Snyder, whose hard work is invisible, as any good director’s should be. The only bone this writer has to pick with the entire production is such a small one that I’m sure by the time the audience returns to the theater it will have ironed itself out: The set changes were so long that they broke up the fragile pacing of the play. I don’t care if there’s a new sofa on the stage when the lights go up — it’s all suspension of disbelief anyway.

It is marvelous to see a play that is written by a new young playwright — a dying breed as theaters opt to play it safe and do “oldies-but-goodies” because they are sure to bring in a crowd. NFCT went out on a limb and I, for one, was very happy to be out there with them.

‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

North Fork Community Theatre

Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck

Performances continue Sept. 16-19 and 23-26. For tickets, call 298-NFCT (6328) or visit