by Monique Y. Wells
Appels en Absence is the French translation of an American play written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Emily Wilson and translated by Isabelle Famchon, it is being brilliantly performed by an ensemble cast at the Lucernaire theater* in Montparnasse.
The play opens with all six members of the cast seated in various poses on a minimalist stage. At the fore are a woman who faces the audience (Jean) and a man whose back is turned toward the audience (Gordon).
We quickly surmise that Jean is sitting in the cafe. Gordon’s cell phone rings incessantly at the next table. Jean tries to engage Gordon in conversation, first pointing out that the phone is ringing, then asking him why he refuses to answer. She soon realizes that he is dead, and uses his phone to call the authorities to have them remove his body. She attends his funeral, clutching the phone as Gordon’s mother exhorts everyone to turn off their mobiles in respect for the church and the occasion.
Inexplicably, Jean decides to keep the phone and “keep Gordon alive” by responding to his calls. Through this charade, she meets his family, his colleagues, and even Death itself, as she embarks on an existential adventure that transforms her life.
The characters in the play are Jean; Gordon; Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Gottleib; Gordon’s younger brother, Dwight; Gordon’s wife, Hermia; Gordon’s (unnamed) mistress; and an unknown woman. All the parts are played with finesse and wry humor. Gordon (played by Marc Marchand) is especially sardonic and his monologues are accentuated by movement that is reminiscent of modern danse. Mrs. Gottleib (played by Dorli Lamar) is the epitome of the mother who loves her eldest son desperately but never managed to convey this to him when he was alive. And Jean (played by Nathalie Baunaure) is captivating in her increasingly fanciful fabrications of Gordon’s last words and deeds as she encounters those who knew him best. As director Emily Wilson indicates in the press release for the production, the play is both touching and absurd.
The original title of the play is Dead Man’s Cell Phone. It was commissioned by Playwrights Horizons with funds from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Commissioning Program and Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California. It was produced on Broadway at Lincoln Center in NYC in 2009.
The Paris production at Le Lucernaire runs through May 10.
53, rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs
Metro: Notre-Dame-des-Champs (Line 12), Vavin ou Saint-Placide (Line 4), Edgar Quinet (Line 6)
Regular entry fee: 25€
Senior rate (65+ years of age): 20€
Student / Unemployed rate: 15 €
Youth rate (less than 26 years of age): 10€
*Le Lucernaire is more than just a theater. It also houses a three-screen cinema, a restaurant, a bar, and a L’Harmattan bookstore.