Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone begins with a lot of promise and an intriguing premise. A young woman, Jean (Morrisa Nagel), is sitting alone in a café on a bleak, rainy day and becomes annoyed with another patron’s constantly ringing cell phone. Growing more and more agitated, she finally answers his phone herself. She will continue to answer for a long time to come too, because the phone’s owner, Gordon (Stanley Amditis), turns out to be dead. Jean’s decision to get involved leads to deceptive but good-intentioned relationships with the dead man’s mother (Kate Tonner), wife (Tracey Philips), and brother Dwight (also played by Stanley Amditis).
The first act proves fascinating. Nagel’s Jean is sweet, not-quite-selfless, and never transparent, giving the audience plenty of time to ponder her motivations; and the relationships she forges with those around her, particularly with Dwight, are believable and complex. However, what starts off as a strong study in relationships and communication, or lack thereof, in today’s world quickly disintegrates into a jumbled, bizarre mess trying to juggle too many heavy themes at once.
That’s not to say, though, that this production is without its finer points. Tonner is over-the-top hilarious in her role as Gordon and Dwight’s doting, dramatic mother, and Amditis nails Gordon’s monologue from the afterlife, the second act’s only redeeming feature. Plus, the simple set, spot-on lighting, and video projections work well here. It’s mainly the all-over-the-place story and the schizophrenic humor that is the problem, and even strong, risk-taking direction from Rod Rich can’t quite save that. At the very least, this show is worth a watch, maybe even two, just to try and tackle its many themes, and Raleigh Little Theatre deserves credit for trying something daring and original, even if it misses the mark.