The Urge to Speak Is Strong in Telephone

Wired Victorians: Matthew Dellapina and Gibson Frazier in Telephone
Pavel Antonov

Philosopher Jean Baudrillard once described "the ecstasy of communication" in postmodern times. As we live in thrall to technology, transmitting our voices and messages becomes an end in itself. We can share our voice with the global village in one click, but do we have anything meaningful to say? Telephone, a dynamic and dense first play by poet Ariana Reines (produced by the Foundry Theatre), animates that question in three time-traveling acts.

First, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson (Gibson Frazier and Matthew Dellapina) contemplate their new invention, the telephone, as it reaches out and touches their inner lives. Next, we enter a linguistic vortex, listening to a virtuosic torrent of nonsensical thoughts articulated by Miss St. (Birgit Huppuch)—Jung's schizophrenic case study—for her imagined audience. Last, anonymous and shadowy speakers bask in the glow of an electronic screen as they attempt to connect with each other. Their monosyllabic 21st-century speech makes a jarring contrast with the earlier Victorian characters' airy wordplay.

Ken Rus Schmoll's incisive direction—and first-rate cast—creates a powerful sense of urgency for all these would-be communicators. With three broad strokes, Telephone shows us how, regardless of the medium, our urge to speak, to "transmit" ourselves, remains strong—even when no one's really listening to each other. Tom Sellar

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