Would you kill yourself on live TV in a manner determined by viewers for the luxury of spending $1 million
in a week?
Eldon Phelps ponders this intriguing notion hastily in the local premiere of Eric Coble’s fascinating 2005 dark comedy “The Dead Guy,” currently receiving a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking presentation at the Dayton Theatre Guild deftly directed by Saul Caplan.
At a nondescript bar in the nondescript town of Leadville, unemployed and aloof Eldon (a first-rate, credibly impulsive Christopher Hahn) is persuaded to become the Dead Guy, the focal point of a new reality TV show of the same name created by ruthless producer Gina Yaweth (a splendidly shrewd, fixated Amy Askins). Eldon is the perfect bait because his hopeless indifference about life leads him to believe money and suicide would make him someone to remember in the eyes of his family and community. His logic is terribly flawed, but the decision he faces marvelously addresses the greater concern of desperation within the human condition. What exactly is the price of fleeting fame in today’s society? Have we become numb to entertainment that morphs from frivolous to grotesque? Through Eldon and Gina’s eye-opening perspectives, Coble allows us to fully examine the unsavory yet profitable depths of our media-craved culture and the get-rich-quick schemes that infiltrate the most vulnerable for the titillation of millions.
The very physical Hahn, making his Guild debut following memorable turns at Sinclair Community College, is totally relatable and fittingly rough around the edges. As Eldon’s outlook and bank account evolves, a mild, transformative “Pygmalion”-esque quality encircles him which Hahn embraces with spunk, charm and maturity. He also finds terrific support in Askins, who winningly conveys Gina’s insatiable quest for ratings which leads her on a very unattractive path. Askins is so convincing and captivating in her juicy role you’ll wonder if she has attended her share of reality TV casting calls in our region.
Caplan’s amiable, compatible cast also includes an enjoyably understated K.L. Storer as Gina’s trusty videographer Dougie, Aaron Brewer as Eldon’s modest brother Virgil, a comical Teresa Connair as Eldon’s outspoken mom Roberta, an engaging Angela Timpone as Eldon’s ex-girlfriend Christy, Wayne Wolfe as an assertive Security Guard, the overdue return of Timothy Walling-Moore (excellent in the Guild’s 2010 local premiere of “Kimberly Akimbo”) as Leon, Carly Risenhoover-Peterson as Sheila, and Jenna Burnette as Nancy. Technical issues hindered the performance attended (the action relies heavily on multimedia and props), but the material’s essence wasn’t diminished thanks to the astute cast.
In a savvy move, Gina gives fans of “The Dead Guy” an option for a write-in vote regarding Eldon’s demise. For a split second, I actually thought the vote would be in favor of sparing his life. After all, thanks to Hahn’s fine portrayal, there always seemed to be a glimmer of hope amid the darkness. Well, maybe next season.
“The Dead Guy” continues through June 15 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $11 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org