Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:06 am | Fair 35º


Review: SBCC Theatre Group Dials Up Humor, Intrigue with ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

Leona Paraminski and Jenna Scanlon star in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ by Sarah Ruhl.
Leona Paraminski and Jenna Scanlon star in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ by Sarah Ruhl. (Ben Crop photo)

Sara Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, like her modern retelling of Eurydice — artfully directed by Jeff Mills at UCSB in 2013 — moves from normal everyday happenings to the fantastical, interspersing humor with poignancy in its themes of death and loss. Sharp and witty, it provides a compelling view of someone becoming intimately involved with the family and friends of a person she’s never met — who has, in fact, died — by answering his phone.

Katie Laris’ sure direction and a stellar ensemble cast bring this intriguing and highly entertaining story to life.

Dead Man's Cell Phone by The Theatre Group at SBCC plays through May 2 at SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre. Click here for more information.

Jenna Scanlon is superb as Jean, a well-meaning woman who stumbles into a whole other reality when she answers a stranger’s phone in a café one day. A seasoned actor excelling at both comedy and drama, here Scanlon’s humor is subtle, as she mainly plays “straight man” to the bizarre goings-on around her.

Brian Harwell plays Gordon, the titular dead man. When we do finally get a chance to “meet” him in the second act, he reveals himself to be a fascinating character, though less than noble. Harwell is excellent here, bringing to mind a different Gordon, once played by Michael Douglas.

Kathy Marden is satisfyingly eccentric as Gordon’s mother, prone to grand proclamations and sweeping gestures. While generally stern, she inexplicably takes a liking to Jean, telling her, “You’re very comforting, like a small casserole. Has anyone ever told you that?” Marden’s comic timing is sharp and her delivery is delightful.

As her oft-forgotten other son, Justin Stark brings a refreshing realness to the role. He is eccentric, too, but unlike his mother, his quirks are small and quiet — he works in a stationery store and eschews technology. He is used to being ignored, but when Jean enters their world, he senses a kindred spirit and a sweet romance blossoms.

Shannon Saleh is fantastic as the dead man’s widow. Coiffed and dressed to the nines at dinner in the first act, she is proper, with a biting wit. But later when she meets Jean at a bar — and has had a hefty head start on cocktails — she is much more, shall we say, loose. Saleh is hilarious here, with a genius ability to play comically drunk.

New to the Santa Barbara stage is Leona Paraminski. Sultry, lithe and mysterious, she is at once luminous and menacing as Carlotta, Gordon’s mistress with a hidden agenda. There is also an impressive climactic comic tussle between her and Jean, choreographed by Mills.

Effective and evocative set design by Francois-Pierre Couture features a spare set with gauzy white floor-to-ceiling curtains. Well-choreographed set changes by stage crew all in white add to the other-worldly atmosphere.

Don’t miss this funny, touching, thought-provoking production. And be sure to turn off your cell phone!

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.