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BWW Reviews: Organic Theater Pittsburgh Debuts with Sarah Ruhl's DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE, 7/21 - 7/31

Organic Theater Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh's brand new - and only - "eco-friendly" theatre company, is currently making a promising debut with the Pittsburgh premiere of Sarah Ruhl's 2008 play, DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE. Under the direction of Ricardo Vila-Roger, this quirky, two-hour dark comedy performs at the Modern Formations Gallery & Performance Space in Lawrenceville.

Think about how much of your life is encapsulated within your cell phone. For many, that answer is likely close to immeasurable. Now imagine what would happen if someone were to find your cell phone: what would its contents - and its incoming calls - reveal about you?

Such is the crux of DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE. Jean, a skittish, jittery drip with an odd penchant for stationery, happens to witness a man's death in a non-descript café one afternoon; she calls 911, but retains his perpetually ringing cell phone. Through the deceased man's incoming calls, Jean is brought to a motley crew of ensemble characters who each possess a host of ridiculous quirks and eccentricities.

Jean is played by the Organic Theater Pittsburgh's artistic director, Jaime Slavinsky, and played mighty well, at that. On stage for essentially the evening's entirety, Ms. Slavinsky endows Jean with a handful of nervy stammers and number of additionally awkward - yet endearing - personality traits.

Each of the remaining five cast members are equally well-suited to their roles and are given individually impressive moments to shine: Deborah Wein's hilariously insensitive portrayal of the dead man's mother, Mrs. Gottlieb, contributes to much of the first act's laughter, while widower Hermia's (Jennifer Chervenick) most memorable scene comes in the form of a drunken second act caper. Also featured are Adam Kukic as Jean's perfectly gawky match, Ja'Sonta Roberts Dean as both mistress and mysterious stranger, and Michael E. Moats as Gordon, the deceased.

DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE raises numerous considerations to ponder, the most significant being just how obsessed with technology some are in the digital whirlwind that is the twenty-first century. But in this show, Ms. Ruhl works hard to assure that nothing smacks you over the head - nothing, that is, except a few unexpectedly well-timed comedic moments that may have you close to rolling in the aisles (but keep clear, because there are actors in transit, and the aisle is in fact home to one of the evening's most aesthetically memorable moments near the end of the show).

Moreover, Organic Theater Pittsburgh seeks to provide the city with a unique, eco-friendly theatergoing experience: not only does it aim to "create a wholly organic theatrical product" through improvisation-based rehearsals, but it also "[relies] on Earth-friendly, recycled, and sustainable materials and [partners] with local artists, merchants, and environmental organizations" in order to better promote environmental awareness. In the case of DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE, ticket buyers may bring an old cell phone to recycle and in turn receive $2 off the price of admission.

DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE runs through July 31 at Modern Formations Gallery & Performance Space located at 4919 Penn Avenue. Tickets are $12 and are available with cash at the door or via

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