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Trent Dawson comes alive in Dead Man’s Cell Phone

by David Cowan 


            Star of theater and television Trent, Dawson, has made another bold foray into theater with Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Long Beach’s International City Theatre. Dawson, most widely known for playing Henry Coleman on As the World Turns, gives a compelling performance in dual roles in Ruhl’s reflected culture play.            

Can you hear me now?  

Our story follows Jean, a wonderful Alina Phelan, as she answers the ringing phone of mysterious dead man Gordon (Dawson) and continues on as the phone’s begrudging guardian, tending to the dead man’s final business. That includes meeting his mother (Eileen T’Kaye), wife (Susan Diol, from Days of Our Lives), mistress (Heather Roberts), and twin brother (Dawson again).

            Each shines in their own way bringing just the right amount of grieving humor and personal neurosis to the individual characters. Dawson is especially persuasive as the constantly cowed surviving brother Dwight, who with thick glasses and humble demeanor charms both Jean and the audience.

“Lots of plays are on cell phones,” Dawson said about the way theater adapts for technology. “They can either move forward or hold up a story. That’s what’s great about this play, it moves forward.”

Ruhl’s play also highlights the drawbacks to the advancements in technology.

“The overreaching in technology just shows us how distant we are from each other,” Dawson reflected. “Dwight and Jean are very lonely and distant from each other.”


The voice on the other line  

Dawson’s most forceful performance comes in the second act as the story of Gordon is revealed to be a self-centered, amoral human organ trafficker. A callous but never cold monologue on his view of the world captivates the audience much the way a massive train wreck does; in your heart you know it’s disturbing but the massive force behind what you’re seeing is simply too fascinating to look away.

It’s at this point Dawson’s true talent as an actor comes through, crafting two very unique characters in one skin.   

“Playing brothers, they were raised by the same people, from the same womb, and came form the same home,” Dawson said of his drastically different characters Gordon and Dwight. “And both have a little Trent in them.”

 Even with a character as seemingly irredeemable as Gordon, Dawson still finds a way to humanize him and, heaven help us, even make him sympathetic.

“I stay on point, make my case that I do this for a good reason, and have to convince you of that” Dawson said of his second act introduction.

This does not come without a sense of irony attached.

“People are still on cell phones as the lights come up,” Dawson said. “I can see them from the stage, that’s why there’s such a direct address to the audience, and you don’t know how they’re going to react.”


Cell phone plays and land line shows  

“I was in an unusual position to be on a show for so long, ATWT kind of does a real big rehearsal that gets filmed,” Dawson said, explaining the differences between televised and live performance. “The bonus is trust. We could trust implicitly trust each other (on ATWT) and that is hard to come by. They trust you and that propels you to bring your A-game.”

Dawson goes on to speak about the Blue Coat Repertory Company which he co founded with friends in 1996.

“In a theater company, you work with people you already trust,” Dawson said.



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