(seen in preview)

… is anybody there? …

There’s a really terrific gadget from ancient Egypt illustrated in the current issue of Archaeology magazine (Mar/Apr 09, p 38) — a flat, rectangular stone somewhat rounded at the top, and decorated with ears.  The idea was you could talk into it though the ears and the gods would hear you, “like an ancient cell phone.” Did the gods give ear?  The scientifically minded and result oriented Alexander Graham Bell, as he’s characterized in Part 1 of Telephone, would have been skeptical but Thomas Watson, his collaborator in the great invention, more given to imaginative flights, would have said “I knew it!”  Thus playwright Ariana Reines conveys the complementary aspects of successful invention.

Part 1 of The Foundry’s Telephone  is a dialog that dramatizes history, seeming to catch Bell and Watson at the very moment they succeeded in transmitting speech through space.   Part 2 is a breath taking tour de force monologue, and if you love wonderful acting a reason in itself to see the play:  Miss St., an insane — but utterly charming — woman speaks non-stop, her stream of consciousness and oddly sense-making language locked in the isolation of madness.  Part 3 is an highly imaginative, almost musical, voice montage in which the three superb actors we’ve already seen, Matthew Dellapina (Watson), Gibson Frazier (Bell) and Birgit Huppuch (Miss St..) shed their identities and appear on a dark stage, shifting personae of voices and silhouettes speaking in cyberspace in variations of the theme of love.

What an invention the telephone — to transmit voice over distances for the first time in world history!  And what does this theater piece add up to?  If we had only Parts 1 and 3, the Telephone would be an artful expression of the evolution from phone to computer of the immediate broadcast of thoughts, feelings and ideas that characterizes our world.  But what about Part 2?  Well, Miss St. (for Saint, one of her illusions, she also believes she rules the world) does fit more words into a minute — and a sentence — than anyone else while in a room alone … an ultimate statement of language untransmitted?  Well, maybe that’s a stretch.  It feels like an insert.

A unifying theme of this theater piece is also the outstanding production given it by The Foundry Theatre.  Nothing is left unattended, and the inherent character of each segment has received the fulfilling benefit of intense intellectual scrutiny and theatrical know-how.  Particularly stunning visually is, as my friend said, the Magritte-like surrealism of the smoky darkness of Part 3, both isolating and linking the voices.

Telephone plays at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre, in New York City’s West Village, through February 28.

( * not for sale, unfortunately — we could use one.)

nearby restaurant favorite: Panca, Peruvian, 92 7th Ave S | Between Grove & Barrow Sts