Hu-llo? Even Mary-Louise Parker Can’t Rescue Ruhl Cell Phone

In such studiously juvenile ways, the second act randomly, even embarrassingly, lurches off the rails. There are moments—like the sex fantasy of Gordon’s embittered, nutty wife, Hermia. But this cell phone fable is written in the mannered style of all Ms. Ruhl’s previous work: It strives for a fairy tale wonder only to descend into an overbearing childlike whimsy.

The usually beguiling Mary-Louise Parker plays the innocent, angelic naif Jean as if she’s mentally challenged. (Similarly, David Aaron Baker as the near-simpleton Dwight, who is Jean’s love interest and the damaged younger brother of the dead Gordon—he of the organs). It’s all meant to be adorable; it’s knowingly winsome instead. Ms. Parker plays a drippy mouse hiding behind her glasses, in the coy way famous actresses in unglamorous roles perform a star “turn.” Worse, I’m afraid: She’s been encouraged to deliver her lines in a flat, suburban drone, which only dulls the already faux atmosphere of magical enchantment while patronizing the apparently ordinary woman she’s playing.

What else can I complain about in my disappointment? It’s not enough for the playwright to conclude that without cell phones, true love is possible. The playing of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s rousing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a sophomoric substitute for a sense of humor, particularly when accompanied by the explanatory line “That’s right. Because you’ll always have a machine in your pants that might ring.”

Also, stagehands dressed like chic bistro waiters at Balthazar sometimes change the set in meticulous slow motion. The director is Anne Bogart.