A modern-day fairy tale

MARSHALL – A woman is sitting in a quiet cafe when a cell phone goes off and doesn’t stop ringing. She then realizes the owner of the phone is dead, so she answers it, sending her on an interesting journey.

Such is the premise of the next show for the Southwest Minnesota State University theater department.

The SMSU theater department is presenting “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 19-22 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, in the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. The play is being directed by guest artist Jennifer Goff.

Goff, who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Director/Scholar program at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., said part of her dissertation is about the playwright of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Sarah Ruhl. Goff directed the show at Wayne State back in October.

“This is the second time I’ve done it in four to five months,” Goff said.

Goff said she changed her approach in working on the show at SMSU.

“It’s a bigger space, a different kind of theater,” Goff said. “We looked at this as a modern-day fairy tale.”

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is about a woman named Jean who answers a cell phone that won’t stop ringing and sees that the owner of the phone, Gordon, is dead. She then is drawn into a different kind of world.

“We sort of treated her like ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” Goff said. “She’s very idealistic. It turns out the world doesn’t fit her ideals at some times.”

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is a strange play, Goff said.

“It’s darkly comic and just normally comic,” Goff said. “Sarah Ruhl is a poet in the way she writes. Her worlds are really magical and lovely and lyrical.”

Payton Shively, who portrays Jean, agrees with the “Alice in Wonderland” concept of the show.

“It’s a strange world I’m making up for this dead man,” Shively said. “I’m trying to make amends with his family, trying to make them feel good, that Gordon is the perfect man, but he isn’t.”

“I think it’s a really cool show,” said Marissa Johnson, one of the actors in the show. “I haven’t been involved in a lot of shows like this. I think it’s really unique.”

Goff also added a couple of characters that weren’t in the original scripts, cellular “beings,” that are being played by Shannon Coyle and Johnson.

“They are sort of our cosmic guides for the show,” Goff said.

“We’re kind of like human props, we help a lot with monologuing,” Johnson said.

Goff said that working with the actors and crew at SMSU has been a whole new experience that has also been really fun.

“They have been so delightful, so welcoming. They’re energetic and working so hard,” she said.

Goff said it’s been a shorter rehearsal time for the show, about three-and-a-half weeks, which has been tough.

“It’s a bit of a challenge because it’s a complicated show,” Goff said. “They done so much work; they’ve risen to the challenge.”

“Everyone’s been hammering out their lines,” Shively said.

“Everybody’s memorizing their lines ridiculously fast,” Johnson said.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is also Shively’s first show at SMSU. She said that working with Goff has been a good experience.

“I really like Jen, she’s awesome,” Shively said. “She has a lot of good ideas. She gives you examples of how she would like you to act.”