Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - For The New Mex­i­can

Jean says, “I never had a cell­phone. I didn’t want to be there, you know. Like if your phone is on you’re sup­posed to be there. Some­times I like to dis­ap­pear. But it’s like — when every­one has their cell­phones on, no one is there. It’s like we’re all dis­ap­pear­ing the more we’re there.”

This brand of talk/think is Ruhl’s sig­na­ture, a kind of up-to-theminute, self-con­scious stream-of-con­scious­ness. That may be one rea­son her work quickly found its way from a Mas­ter of Fine Arts pro­gram at Brown Uni­ver­sity to a Pulitzer Prize nom­i­na­tion for drama in 2005 for The Clean House (about a Brazil­ian maid who is ob­sessed with find­ing the per­fect joke, al­though she is con­vinced it will kill her). Ruhl won a MacArthur Fel­low­ship in 2006 at 32, and In the Next Room (or the Vi­bra­tor Play), her Broad­way de­but, opened last fall to pos­i­tive re­views.

Don­avon com­pared Ruhl’s work to that of an­other play­wright. “Neil Si­mon is mas­ter of one-lin­ers — he just keeps them com­ing. Even a quiet mo­ment is of­ten bro­ken by a laugh line. Sarah Ruhl, on the other hand, lay­ers in the funny lines with ev­ery­thing else. It’s al­most seam­less the way she em­beds hu­mor, throws you off bal­ance.” The fact that the main char­ac­ter, Jean, is kept off bal­ance, “makes the au­di­ence feel a lit­tle off bal­ance, too. In a good way.”

Ruhl’s world is full of char­ac­ters who are at once ec­cen­tric but real; her come­dies are il­log­i­cal, truth­ful, and deeply hu­man. An­other key to Ruhl’s suc­cess may be the range of her sub­ject mat­ter: Dead Man’s Cell Phone is about com­mu­ni­ca­tion; The Clean House ex­plores the na­ture of do­mes­tic life and com­edy; Pas­sion Play: A Cy­cle fol­lows the pol­i­tics of re­li­gion from the El­iz­a­bethan age to the Rea­gan years; and In the Next Room takes on the treat­ment of women’s “hys­te­ria” in the late 1800s.

Don­avon thinks that Santa Fe audiences will re­ally con­nect (so to speak) with Dead Man’s Cell Phone. “First of all, on the sur­face, it’s just very en­ter­tain­ing. I laughed out loud when I read it. It’s a funny, odd­ball play, and Santa Fe is just a quirky kind of place, isn’t it?

“The more I be­gan to read the play and work with the ac­tors, how­ever, I be­gan to see other lay­ers. There is a re­ally strong, meta­phys­i­cal com­po­nent to this play, which I think Santa Feans will re­late to as well. I think peo­ple will come out of this play en­ter­tained but also talk­ing about some of the ideas in the play, how the more things we have to deal with — cell­phones, Face­book, Twit­ter, tex­ting — may help us com­mu­ni­cate at the speed of sound, but that doesn’t mean we’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing bet­ter or more clearly. Be­cause we’re not see­ing each other face to face,” she said, “the phys­i­cal­ity of com­mu­ni­ca­tion gets lost. We get iso­lated, even with all th­ese de­vices.”

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