Month: November 2016

Restaurant Review – Greenplate in Cinnaminson, NJ

According to their mission statement Greenplate offers a host of “healthy, great tasting” foods. That intrigued me as I’d never before read those words written in that combination. Their tagline of “eat good, feel good, live good” sounded like a dare with the Holiday Season coming up. I opted to stop in for lunch this November 25th to determine whether or not they could meet their own hype.

For a space located in the Pep Boys Plaza off Route 130, the ambiance well exceeded my expectations. The fusion of light and dark gray colors on the floor made it appear like marble. The bright green and white colors on the wall gave the establishment an inviting feel.

The cleanliness impressed me upon entering. I couldn’t locate any dirt or dust in the entire building. They placed bottles of hand sanitizer next to the touch screens. I liked that idea. It saved patrons a trip to the rest room before eating. The staff dutifully put on gloves prior to preparing meals. Diners could see into the kitchen and watch the staff cook. All of this showed me just how seriously Greenplate takes hygiene.

I found the customer service phenomenal. A staff member greeted me when I walked up to the counter. He asked if I’d dined at Greenplate in the past. Since I hadn’t, he explained that patrons order through one of the several touch screens. He offered to assist me, but I discovered the screen very easy to use. In fact, I decided to change one of my choices and did so without difficulty.

Greenplate also accommodates those who may not be as comfortable perusing modern technology. A hard-copy of the menu hung on the storefront window. Two large screen televisions mounted on the wall above the kitchen listed the selections. I appreciated these features. They provided a general understanding of the offerings prior to using the touch screen.

Another big screen television in the dining area showed the Flyers game. The choice of programming surprised me. Those of us in the South Jersey area know that nothing will ruin a person’s appetite like watching Philadelphia’s sports teams play. As the Rangers pulled ahead two to nothing, I thought: Greenplate must have enormous confidence in their food quality to subject diners to this. When I received my meal I understood why they did.

My dining endeavor commenced with the Broccoli Salad. I thought the $4.99 price tag for a “side” slightly high, but the quality justified it. The salad consisted of broccoli, red onions, granny smith apples, raisins and bacon along with the Greenplate light and sweet dressing. The latter tasted tangy and enhanced the overall flavor. I wouldn’t have expected this combination of ingredients to complement each other so well, but they did. The chef deserves credit for devising such a unique and delicious side. While I enjoyed all the products I sampled at Greenplate, I liked this one the most.

For my main meal I ordered the Dragon Ginger Stir Fry. Patrons may order this dish with several options. I chose chicken, wheat noodles, carrots, bell peppers, red onions, cilantro and the dragon ginger sauce. The cook even delivered it to my table when he finished preparing it; an exceptional display of customer service. I remember one time at an Indian restaurant they gave me a meal that smoke continued billowing off of for five minutes after it sat on the table. Fortunately, the staff at Greenplate served this meal at the perfect temperature. It was warm, but not to the point it burned my mouth. I enjoyed the meal and found this stir fry reasonably priced at $9.49.

I should add that Greenplate uses organic chicken in this dish. This delighted me. My dog is a fussy eater and will only eat organic chicken. I have one guiding principle as a food critic: the dog can’t eat better than I do. For the first occasion in some time, an establishment understood that.

For a beverage I tried the Boylan Bottling products lemonade. I thought it very sweet and lacking the harsh, bitter aftertaste of most lemonades. That’s probably because all natural cane sugar served as the sweetener. All the fountain drinks are sensibly priced at $2.25.

I only had one issue with my visit to Greenplate. The menu touted their “world famous” Butternut Squash Soup. That got my attention. The cool weather put me in the mood for some soup. I looked forward to feasting on this legendary fare. It didn’t appear on the touch screen when I went to place my order, although another soup did. This disappointed me. If an establishment raves about one of their offerings, people will want to try it. The quality of the other items I tried compensated for the letdown, however. I didn’t leave feeling slighted.

Since I ate a healthy lunch containing many greens, I figured I’d earned a treat afterwards. As I’ve been suffering from pumpkin pie withdraw since yesterday afternoon, I ordered the Pumpkin Pie Smoothie. (Once again, Greenplate exposed me to words I’m familiar with presented in an unfamiliar combination.) This beverage contained pumpkin, almond milk, banana, honey, and pumpkin pie spice. It tasted delicious, but at first I thought the price high at $5.95. Since the menu calls it a “fall season specialty item”, I later re-evaluated and figured the cost acceptable.

Greenplate proved it possible to prepare “healthy, great tasting foods.” I’m glad I discovered them when I did. With the New Year fast approaching, many will no doubt make resolutions to eat better in 2017. With the outstanding meals this establishment offers, those of us in South Jersey won’t have to wait until after the Holiday Season for the motivation to improve our diets.

 

Drama Review – Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon

Writing either comedy or tragedy challenges any playwright. Few possess the skill to pen either of these genres well. Rarer still are those dramatists with the proficiency to combine the two in the same work while concurrently creating compelling journeys for the characters. In his Pulitzer Prize winning masterwork, Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon executed all these daunting feats.

The play delivered an original take on a “coming of age” story. While Jay’s and Arty’s mother suffered with terminal cancer their father, Eddie, accumulated a large debt to pay for her treatment. In order to pay it off, he accepted a job that required him to travel throughout the country. After some cajoling and begging he talked his mother, whom he rarely visited after his marriage, into taking his sons in his absence. Since the grandmother and Aunt Bella operated a candy store, this would seem like a boy’s dream. Grandma’s strict temperament made it otherwise. Their interaction with eccentric characters such as the mysterious Uncle Louie, Aunt Bella and Aunt Gert added to the play’s appeal.

Mr. Simon developed a unique ability to express humor in otherwise tragic circumstances. It’s one feature that set him apart from other playwrights. Eddie explained that the loan shark he borrowed the money from sent flowers to his wife’s funeral. He had the following witty take on his own situation. (All the ellipses appeared in the original text.)

Eddie: …There is no way I can pay this man back…So what’ll he do? Kill me?…Maybe …If he kills me, he not only loses his money, it’ll probably cost him again for the flowers for my funeral. (Page 23)

I also liked the amusing way Eddie explained how he got into financial trouble.

Eddie: …I couldn’t go to a bank because they don’t let you put up heartache and pain as collateral…You know what collateral is, Arty?…You have to give them something to hold that’s worth eleven dollars…That’s for their interest…A Shylock doesn’t need collateral…His  collateral is your desperation…So he gives you his money…And he’s got a clock. And when you get your money, the clock starts…And what it keeps time of is your promise…If you keep your promise, he turns off the clock…and if not, it keeps ticking…and after a while, your heart starts ticking louder than his clock…” (Page 22)

As with Brighton Beach Memoirs, Lost in Yonkers contained an emotional confrontation scene towards the end of the play. During an argument with Grandma, Bella angrily asserted that she envied her two deceased siblings. In the denouement from this exchange, Grandma reached a painful moment of self-realization.

Bella: I’m sorry, Momma…I didn’t mean to hurt you.

Grandma: Yes. You do…It’s my punishment for being alive…for not surviving my own children…Not dying before them is my sin…” (Page 113)

Grandma expressed quite a revealing statement here. Throughout the play she conducted herself as a rather unemotional person. Earlier she delivered the following thoughts on Eddie to his children: “Your father vants you to grow up, first let him grow up.” (Page 36)

While the comedic quips in Lost in Yonkers stood out the most, Mr. Simon added much more depth to the story than that would suggest. In spite of the tragedies and traumas affecting all of the characters’ lives, they all became better people by the end. It takes a very special playwright to fuse all these disparate elements into the same piece. It’s difficult to laugh at the playwright for that achievement.

Drama Review – The Humans by Stephen Karam

All those dreading Thanksgiving dinner with relatives should be thankful they’re not spending it with the Blake family. Stephen Karam presented readers the opportunity to sit in on this dysfunctional household’s holiday celebration in this 2016 Tony Award winner for best play: The Humans.

Due to the way this family presented themselves, several times I had to refer back to the title to clarify that I was reading about people. The Humans originated from Richard’s recollection of a sci-fi comic book he read as a child. In it the monsters told scary stories to each other. While Earthlings prefer to tell horrific accounts regarding monsters, these creatures frightened each other by telling tales about humans. After reading this play, I wouldn’t be surprised if this abnormal Blake family Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t among them.

The playwright constructed this piece brilliantly. He managed to translate normal patterns of speech and conversation to the page better than any I’d ever read. In the opening notes, Mr. Karam explained that the “/” in the text signified that the character with the next line of dialog began his/her speech at that point. This caused characters to interrupt and speak over one another quite often. With the nature of the conversations this made the discussions very believable.

I always look for non-verbal communication whenever I review a play. I liked how this playwright gave actors plenty of opportunities to exhibit their skills on the stage. Any dialog he bracketed by the symbols “[ ]” meant that the performer would express that line non-verbally. Here an example that would challenge any thespian:

Dierdre: Anything I say makes her [annoyed]… (Page 56)

This one is rather difficult as well.

Brigid: Ahhh….[will we make it through dinner?] Page 63

I’d like the opportunity to watch someone try and animate this line.

Erik: …coupla nights I’ve had this [recurring dream]…there’ll be a woman… Page 74

Mr. Karam also utilized this device to add tension to the narrative. Here are some fantastic examples.

Richard: What?

Erik: …[no, nothing important] Page 41

And

Erik: (Smiling, to Brigid) [Man you’re a piece of work.] Page 55

Here’s an exchange following Deidre’s comment about trying to maintain her diet during the holidays.

Brigid: Especially if you eat a bucket of ranch dip before dinner.

Aimee: [Don’t say stuff like that…] (Page 95)

The animosity expressed between Brigid and Aimee enhanced the subtext. Here’s another superb instance.

Aimee: (to Brigid) [Why are you being such a bitch?] (Page 99)

Towards the end of the play, Erik delivered the line that best summed up the narrative.

Erik: Hey, sorry this was…[a total fucking nightmare]…(Erik goes to embrace Deirdre.) (Page 139)

As one can guess from the examples cited, a lot of hostility flowed beneath the surface at this holiday meal. Mr. Karam’s inclusion of quirky characters struggling with both external and internal conflicts enhanced the stress. In the process of losing her job while failing to cope with her soul mate’s breaking-up with her, Aimee’s ulceritic colitis flared up at dinner. Her sister Brigid recently realized that her life’s sole professional ambition was about to elude her. Their grandmother “Momo” Blake’s progressive dementia rendered her more rambling and incoherent. Their parents, Erik and Deirdre, struggled with some underlying difficulties of their own. Brigid’s boyfriend Richard, twelve years her senior at the age of 38, provided the outsider’s view of this family.

With all this drama within the drama, The Humans would seem like a very difficult work to read. The playwright’s skillful dialog and clever insertions of humor at the right times made it readable. I found the play very interesting, entertaining and difficult to put down. Part of the latter may have been an interest in seeing the magnitude of the impending “train wreck.” To be fair to the author: he penned a very engaging and well-written work for the stage.

Mr. Karam added some excellent lyrical passages to the text. The most memorable included:

Erik: (To Brigid who is still angry with him.) Hey, hey. I don’t want to see you bent outta shape over something you can fix. / The Blakes bounce back, that’s what we do. (Page 110)

I thought it clever how Brigid cut Eric off when he reached the part about the “Blakes bouncing back.”

Richard: I got to reboot my life. It was good…

Erik: I dunno. Doing life twice seems like the only thing worse than doing it once. (Page 113)

While these quotes reflected negativity, the author did include a somewhat positive observation. It’s a line that would apply to anyone in pursuit of a dream. Here’s Erik’s sound advice to Brigid.

Erik: -you’re lucky to have a passion to pursue, if you don’t care about it enough to push through this setback you should quit and do something else… (Page 109)

As Thanksgiving approaches I’m sure some readers are dreading sharing the table with someone (s)he doesn’t like. I’d advise such people to read The Humans beforehand just to understand the situation could be much, much worse. For those interested in exceptional drama, this play is a phenomenal read. Those not anxious about the upcoming holiday may want to wait until after Thanksgiving to peruse it, though. The writing made the play so realistic it could cause sensitive readers to lose their appetites.

Lecture Review “Shipwrecks off NJ Coast” by Dan Lieb of NJHDA

It seemed fitting that Dan Lieb’s lecture on “Shipwrecks off NJ Coast” occurred on a dreary and stormy night. With a coastline of 126 miles, 7,200 shipwreck accounts have been recorded in New Jersey. This equates to a little over 7% of the nation’s maritime incidents. The expression “wreck” constitutes a rather broad category in itself. “Wreck reports” throughout the state’s history described everything from the nautical versions of “fender benders” to ships sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Exploration of the latter became a popular diving pursuit after the Pinta sank in 1963.

The Elizabeth Tuttle Fund along with the cooperative effort between the Historical Society of Moorestown and the Moorestown Library hosted this event on November 16th. It took place at the Moorestown Library.

Mr. Leib serves as the President of the NJ Historical Divers Association. The group studies wreckage off the Jersey coast and identifies from what ships it originated. They also “map” wrecks so one can see the location and layout of the remaining sections of sunken ships. The organization incorporated in 1995. On April 1, 2006 it opened a museum which it plans on expanding within the next two years.

Mr. Lieb recovered his first artifact during a 1977 dive. He located a large bronze valve that he wittily referred to as “plumbing” at the site of the Rusland and Adonis wreckage sites. This atypical location includes two ships that went down in the same place. They didn’t collide, however. The former ship wrecked in 1877 on the wreckage of the latter; the Adonis having sunk 18 years previous.

While two ships sinking in the same area doesn’t occur often, it’s not improbable. The Millville and the John H. Winstead sank approximately 1000 feet away from each other. These wrecks occurred during the same storm in December of 1927.

New Jersey’s seas don’t experience the same volume of hurricanes as North Carolina or Texas. They still encounter deadly storms. Weather has caused myriad disasters throughout the state’s history. In 1854 both the Powhattan and the New Era wrecked because of storms. These two incidents caused a combined loss of over 500 lives. 1846 saw a host of weather related catastrophes. The John Minturn and nine other vessels wrecked due to bad meteorological conditions.

Mr. Lieb discussed the most unusual find he’s encountered. While exploring off the Long Branch coast, divers discovered locomotives on the sea bed. Historians do not yet know how these trains arrived at their watery resting place.

Aside from the interesting facts regarding actual ship wrecks, the speaker added a bit of miscellany to enhance the discussion. He explained that at times organizations will intentionally sink boats. They do this in order to create habitats for sea life. Muscles and other underwater denizens thrive in these artificial additions to their environment.

Following the advent of lighthouses, over 40 life-saving stations operated along the New Jersey coastline. People who worked in these buildings performed a rather unique service. During bad weather, such as hurricanes, they would be tasked with walking from one station to the next and back again while looking out at the sea for shipwrecks. These brave souls would carry two tools. They held a lantern so they could see through the heavy rain. They also carried a flare in order to signal those on a stranded ship that help would soon arrive. The person would then return to the station and get assistance. In essence, sea rescue would entail tying a line to the shore and the other to the boat. Using whatever in vogue device preferred at the time, rescuers would ferry passengers from the ship to the shore amid dangerous seas and heavy gales.

In several pictures of wrecks Mr. Gelb displayed, a row of large black boxes appeared across ships’ exteriors. He explained that from a distance these painted figures would be mistaken for cannon holes. They deterred pirates from attacking. Fear of these sea marauders caused the dark squares to appear on ships until the early years of the twentieth century.

On land we know New Jersey as the Garden State. Beneath the waves the sea also takes on a verdant hue. Mr. Gelb animated the “emerald world” he encounters off the coast. Now other states can really feel “green.” Not only does New Jersey have a rich history on land, we’ve got one to inspire jealousy under our coastal waters as well.

Gotterdemerung

This past November 8th Americans went to the polls facing the most daunting choice we’ve ever had to make in a Presidential election. The main options consisted of the candidate with the worst temperament of any in our history or the one with the worst judgment in the 227 years of our republic. Following an unexpectedly surprising evening, –if one believed the pontifications of the political “experts”, that is–the aspirant with the poor judgment ended up defeated. For the second time in less than a decade, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton lost an election she should have won. Again she failed to defeat an upstart insurgent whom few—especially within her own campaign—took seriously.

This most unusual Presidential contest ended on an ironic note. After months of speculation about the future of the GOP, pundits now ponder the Democrats’. At the time of this writing, they only hold 13 of the nation’s state legislatures. As Marc Porter Magee observed, should they lose another they will fall below the percentage needed to block Constitutional amendments. The opening of the “standard bearer” position became as much a surprise as Mrs. Clinton’s loss of “firewall” states in the Rust Belt. Despite their history of voting blue in Presidential elections, the former Secretary of State managed to lead the party to defeats in places once considered impregnable strongholds. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan all voted Republican. The latter should’ve raised “red” flags, as yet another upstart insurgent who challenged mainstream political convention won the Democratic primary there this year; and, curiously enough, the self-described “democratic socialist” who serves in the Senate as an independent wasn’t a real Democrat.

With the same confidence that the media proclaimed “Dewey Defeats Truman” and the 2007 Patriots would have a “perfect” season, they assured us Mrs. Clinton would take the Oath of Office this upcoming January 20th. Perhaps, Casey at the Bat would’ve been a more appropriate metaphor. The guarantee of her winning this election fluctuated between 90% to a more conservative 76%. That’s quite a remarkable number since a different Democrat hadn’t won the White House following another Democratic Administration since 1856. Then something unexpected happened. People voted.

While watching the results come in, an overwhelming sensation of déjà vu seemed to settle over the nation. Mrs. Clinton won states everyone expected such as Vermont, New Jersey and New York. Indiana and Kentucky went the other way. No surprises there. Then Florida started to report its numbers.

At first the vote totals favored her opponent. As northern Florida has historically supported Republican candidates that didn’t surprise; the narrowness of the race did. When the traditionally Democratic counties in the south of the state voted, the total remained uncomfortably close. Then areas in the panhandle reported. While a battleground state, many viewed it as Mrs. Clinton’s to lose. She did.

At this point I felt as though I’d moved backwards through time. 2016 suddenly became 2008 as contested state after contested state deserted Mrs. Clinton in favor of a man far lacking in her governmental experience. This time, however, a very significant advantage favored her. Many (myself included) believed the former First Lady to be the one candidate who could defeat a Republican challenger. Conventional wisdom would presuppose his “locker room talk” serving to enhance the appeal of the woman positioned to become the first female POTUS. The whole debacle made me wonder if there wasn’t an endemic issue with the current Democratic Party.

To be clear, Mrs. Clinton ran an abominable campaign. One wouldn’t recognize that from the myriad excuses she and her staff have spewed since the election. First it blamed the media for granting favorable coverage to her “celebrity” opponent. After taking a few days to professionally refine its failure to take responsibility, the erstwhile candidate adopted her opponent’s tack. In an explanation eerily similar to that of a “rigged” system, she placed fault on the FBI Director for resurrecting an email scandal: one that she brought upon herself and allowed to become the defining issue of her candidacy.

In lieu of reinforcing support in contested battleground states or attempting to inspire voters in areas that traditionally favored the party, she traversed the hustings in the red state of Arizona. Prior to the election, pundits suspected it would vote Republican and—possibly for the only time in the campaign—voters proved them right.

When Bill Clinton ran for the Presidency in 1992, the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid” became ubiquitous. Other than boilerplate references to a “middle class tax cut”, Mrs. Clinton abandoned economic issues in favor of assaulting her opponent’s crass comments about women, insensitive remarks about minorities and denigrating the “deplorables” who supported him; and subsequently voted him the 45th President of the United States.

The former President Clinton advised that the campaign reach out to white working class voters. That’s an odd recommendation to a political party forged by Thomas Jefferson to advance the interests of the yeoman farmer. It’s also the institution that gave rise to the “man of the people”, Andrew Jackson, who put the needs of his constituency ahead of the avaricious banker, Nicholas Biddle. In the 1930s, it pursued policies that gave Americans a “New Deal” as FDR instituted popular reforms such as social security.

Following the election catastrophe, a man who served in Mr. Clinton’s cabinet, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich expressed the following thoughts on newsweek.com.

…I believe it necessary for the members and leadership of the Democratic National Committee to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America, including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.

The Democratic Party as it is now constituted has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. This must change. The election of 2016 has repudiated it.

He added:

The Democratic Party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades, the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper-middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.

While reading Mr. Reich’s comments I finally understood how the millionaire free trader serving Wall Street interests became the Democratic Party nominee in 2016.    

In the days following the party’s gotterdamerung, a photo of the would-be-President circulated on the internet. While hiking, a distraught supporter encountered the former candidate in the woods near her home. The two forced a smile for the picture. The surreal scene seemed a metaphorical manifestation for the state of the party. Should it not heed the advice of those like Mr. Reich, it will spend the next several election cycles in the political wilderness. One doubts either its donors or its membership will seem as happy as Mrs. Clinton or her distraught supporter in the wake of that eventuality.

Drama Review – The Goat, or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee

“Something can happen that’s outside the rules, that doesn’t relate to the way The Game is Played.” (Location 1078) That one line serves as a good synopsis of Edward Albee’s Tony Award winning play, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Imagine, if you will, Martin’s wife Stevie discovering that her husband had been unfaithful. While marital infidelity would be an appropriate topic for a tragedy, the playwright opted to take the drama much further. The object of Martin’s affections wasn’t another woman; or even another man, for that matter. Instead, Martin had fallen for…well, let me allow him to describe his feelings.

(Slow; deliberate) “And what I felt was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was so…amazing. There she was.” (Location 1496)

…She was looking at me with those eyes of hers and…I melted, I think. I think that’s what I did: I melted. (Location 1507)

I’d never seen such an expression. It was pure…and trusting and…and innocent; so…so guileless. (Location 1507)

Mr. Albee used this play as a vehicle for exploring social taboos. I only wish he’d chosen a less taboo subject with which to do so. The above lines came from Martin’s confession to Stevie that he’d fallen in love with a (ugh) goat.

In spite of the unorthodox nature of the story, the playwright managed to work in some humor. Here’s another exchange between Martin and Stevie. In this one Martin explained his (ugh) attraction to Sylvia.

Martin: …that she and I were…(Softly; embarrassed) that she and I were going to go to bed together.

Stevie: To stall together! To hay! Not to bed. (Location 1607)

The playwright added another complexion to this situation. He made the couple’s son Billy a homosexual. At one point he told his father:

…you’ve figured out that raising a kid does not include making him into a carbon copy of you, that you’re letting me think you’re putting up with me being gay far better than you probably are. (Location 1879) 

This enhanced the drama in that Martin didn’t feel totally comfortable with his son’s sexuality. This at the same time he pursued a (ugh) physical relationship with a goat.

In the text Martin noted, “So that’s what it comes down to, eh?…what we can get away with?” (Location 2060) Mr. Albee could’ve described the play itself with these words. While a very unorthodox work, even based on what I’d expect from Edward Albee, I enjoyed reading it. As I suspect many readers would, I found the situation bizarre. The playwright still crafted believable dialog. His deft interjections of humor helped make the unsettling topic a little easier to handle. It took a very gifted playwright to accomplish all this.

Obviously, this drama won’t appeal to all readers or theatregoers. I still applaud Mr. Albee for daring audiences to open their minds and to challenge social conventions. That’s what only the very best writers achieve through their work.

 

Theatre Review – Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Burlington County Footlighters

It’s rare to witness that unique combination of themes such as technological obsession, the search for true love and the business of organ trafficking in the same show. Somehow, Burlington County Footlighters melded these disparate concepts in their production of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Under the direction of theatre guru extraordinaire, Dennis Doherty, they did an exceptional job in the process.

Mr. Doherty’s choice for his latest project didn’t surprise me. It featured a host of really unusual and quirky characters. The ensemble reminded me a bit of roles in The Drowsy Chaperone; in which this summer at the Maple Shade Arts Council Mr. Doherty played the Man in the Chair. This time he swapped that seat for the director’s chair. When I attended the opening night performance on November 4, 2016, it made me glad he did.

For those who haven’t guessed from the dramatis personae, the playwright crafted an atypical story for this 2006 work. Ironically, it opened with a very relatable scene all too ubiquitous in the modern world. While sitting in a café, Jean (played by Alex Davis) became annoyed by a cell phone ringing behind her. When the man (Matt Dell’Olio) ignored her entreaties to answer it, she removed it from his pocket and responded for him. In the process of speaking, she discovered he was dead. After reporting his death, she opted to keep his phone and continue answering his calls. In the process she became acquainted with his brother (also played by Matt Dell’Olio), his mother (played by Jenny Scudder), his widow (played by Amanda Lizzio) and a business associate (played by Danica Harvey). Each of these individuals seemed in competition for who could be the most eccentric.

I’ve seen Alex Davis play numerous supporting roles. (She’s also a veteran of The Drowsy Chaperone.) I enjoyed watching her take the lead role in this one. It required her to carry the show and she met the challenge. Since her character didn’t know anything about the dead man, she had to talk her way through conversations with people who knew him intimately. This resulted in some awkward discussions. It’s never easy to ameliorate nervous tension through comedy, but she did so like a true theatrical professional.

Ms. Davis is very expressive with a strong aptitude for non-verbal communication. I liked the way she opened the performance by raising an eyebrow while the cell phone in the café increasingly annoyed her. She did a nice job displaying confusion while trying to explain to Gordon’s (the dead man’s) family that she worked for him in “incoming.” At the time neither the character nor the audience knew that he facilitated organ trafficking.

Matt Dell’Olio played dual roles in this show. His performance captured the essences of both the cunning narcissistic dead man as well as his timid awkward brother, Dwight. He brilliantly delivered the dead man’s soliloquy to open Act II. In the speech, the character explained how he pursued a selfish, self-absorbed existence motivated by personal gain. His speaking technique made me feel like I was listening to Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” oration. That’s quite an achievement under any circumstance. It’s even more remarkable because of the content.

I liked how Mr. Dell’Olio transformed into the timid Dwight; in some instances after playing Gordon in the preceding scene. He got into character by slouching and through some graceless laughing. With measured precision he developed a socially awkward character into Jane’s love interest.

The supporting performers portrayed their characters in ways that enhanced the play. Jenny Scudder nailed the role of the overly dramatic mother, Mrs. Gottleib. I found Amanda Lizzio’s rendition of Gordon’s widow as intoxicating as her character was intoxicated. Danica Harvey created a wonderful sense of mystery regarding Gordon’s “other woman.”

Jim Frazier did awesome work with both the set and lighting design. The contrast between the light blue and black colors underneath the multicolored lights created a very unique effect: both simple and yet abstract; just like the play itself. The combination enhanced the unusual nature of the story.

Sarah Ruhl wrote a very cerebral text for this piece. It required a lot of thought to absorb its nuances and themes. At times during the show the air conditioner activated and made it difficult to hear the performers. (Yes, even those of us in South Jersey need air conditioning in November from time-to-time.) It also distracted me from contemplating the show’s complexities. Given the choice between feeling cool and hearing the performance, I would’ve preferred the latter. Iggy Pop bled for his art. I’m willing to shed some sweat for Footlighters’.

I saw Dennis Doherty on his cell phone after the performance. That showed me just how into this project he is. Judging from the laughter and applause, I’d have to say the audience was even more into it than he. Then again no one can accuse anybody associated with the performance of phoning it in. See it no later than November 19th. After that Dead Man’s Cell Phone goes dead at Footlighters and redial won’t be available.