Student honors production to present absurdist comedy ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

In the SUNY Oswego honors theatre production “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Jean (Anastasia West) is drawn into the life of a stranger when she answers the phone of a recently deceased cafe customer (Gordon, played by Sean Ryan, standing), and tries to solve the mystery of who he was, with the help of other characters like Gordon’s brother Dwight (Jeremiah Brunje, at right). The absurdist comedy opens Nov. 21 in the Tyler Hall lab theater.

OSWEGO — An absurdist adventure featuring a woman trying to solve the mystery of a recently deceased man unfolds in the SUNY Oswego honors theater production “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” opening Nov. 21 in the Tyler Hall lab theater.

 “It’s an absurdist play,” student director Ahmanee Simmons said, and is filled with unexpected and occasionally outlandish twists and turns. “It’s very fun, very interactive.”

A woman named Jean (played by Anastasia West), finds a dead man (Gordon, played by Sean Ryan) in a cafe. When she answers his phone, she starts the process of trying to find out who he was.

“She gets into a lot of trouble and meets a lot of people who were a part of Gordon’s life,” Simmons explained. “She creates this fantasy version of who he was, but we don’t really know who he was until he reveals himself at the end of the play.”

To earn the student director role, Simmons read the play and applied with her concept and vision for the production. “I highlighted the relationships between people, their connections,” the senior theatre major said of her submission. The play, written by Sarah Ruhl, came out before smartphones dominated people’s daily lives, Simmons said, which made it an especially interesting piece.

For the production, the first in the college’s recently renovated lab theatre, Simmons wanted “an immersive setting so that the audience feels like it’s part of the action,” she said, including actors sometimes going through the audience.

Collaborative effort

The production also features student designers and a range of skillsets among cast and crew, which Simmons has enjoyed.

“I went into the production with my own ideas, but designers have their own visions and a lot of collaboration happens,” Simmons said. “I like working with other students because you get to see the talents they have.”

The rest of the student cast includes Dwight (Jeremiah Brunje), Mrs. Gottlieb (Maria Przepiora), Hermia (Bayana Burnell) and the Other Woman (Mackenzie VanHorn), plus three ensemble players (Dominique Baker-Lanning, Kayla Elfers and Claire Bosley).

With an absurdist play, audiences may find themselves wondering why characters do the things they do, but their actions make sense within the characters’ own world, Simmons said.

Despite that, plenty of serious themes suffuse the production. “It deals with things like morality concepts, what happens to us when we die, what it means to be alive and what kinds of connections that involves,” she said.

For students looking into college theater programs, Oswego is an example of a school where they can have so many opportunities to learn on or off the stages, Simmons said.

“The student honors productions are definitely something you want to be in,” Simmons said. “It’s a great opportunity for students. Not all colleges let a student direct a full production or design a full production.”

The production provides an intensive hands-on learning experience, as “you won’t know what you’re doing until you actually do it,” Simmons said.

In addition to the Nov. 21 opening, the production will have 7:30 p.m. curtains on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 23. The show also will have a Nov. 20 preview performance at 7:30 p.m., which is free for students; fees apply for all others.

Tickets for the regular run cost are discounted for SUNY Oswego students. Tickets are available online at tickets.oswego.edu, at any campus box office or by calling 315-312-3073.

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