Thursday, March 06, 2008

Heilpern's Patience Wears Thin

With the discussion of The Clean House being a hot topic here in Boston, it has opened at the New Rep. I thought I would throw in the voice of John Heilpern at the Observer in New York. He writes this week about the latest Ruhl play Dead Man's Cell Phone:

Dead Man’s Cell Phone possesses such a fresh, intriguing premise that I was immediately prepared to retract every lousy thing I’ve ever said about the pretentiousness of her other plays. Forgive and forget the twee infantilization of her Eurydice (2003) with its Greek chorus of cutely anthropomorphic chanting stones; and the overwrought pseudo-poetry of The Clean House (2004), with its
lofty, bogus pronouncements such as “The perfect joke is somewhere between an angel and a fart.”


It is?

To ask how the wayward Ms. Ruhl came to be acclaimed a bona fide
genius by the good folk at The New York Times is to wonder why the earth isn’t flat. (It is, actually. But only on a Tuesday). There are more of the award-winning playwright’s typically wobbly aphorisms in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, and, at best, they’re eccentrically hit and miss: “Women are responsible for enlivening dull places like railway stations.” (Just okay.) “Hermia chose a Catholic mass for Gordon because she likes to kneel and get up.” (Could do better.) “I never wear a thong. It’s like having a tampon in your asshole.” (See teacher.)


Whatever flaccid witticisms would be in store for us during Dead
Man’s Cell Phone, however, Ms. Ruhl’s ghostly theme of cell life after death promised a timely, original play. (Coincidentally, I recently attended a reception in honor of the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Dmitriy Muratov, editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, was paying moving tribute to Politkovskaya when he suddenly produced her cell phone from a pocket and took
our breath away: It was no longer a cell but an eerie, intimate sign that she’d once lived, the modern relic of a saint. With its hundreds of numbers from all over the world, it was a tragic symbol of a network of global support, and of Politkovskaya’s immense courage. Was I alone in thinking, “What if her cell phone rings right now?”)

MS. RUHL DIDN'T intend to write a tragedy, but rather a “significant” fable. She trivializes her own potential.

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