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Jan. 24, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU's 'Dead Man's Cell Phone' wows Kennedy Center's Theatre Festival

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Slippery Rock University theatre department's production of "Dead Man's Cell Phone," by Sarah Ruhl, was among eight invited productions in the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region Two event hosted by West Chester University and came away with honors and praise.

Two SRU students received awards for their work in the production. Samatha Kuchta, a communication major from Lower Burrell, won the Region 2 Award for Excellence in Scenic Design, and Meg Rodgers, an SRU psychology major from Bruin, competing against more than 200 nominees for the Irene Ryan Competitive Acting Scholarship, was selected as one of the 32 semi-finalists.

"It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun and completely worth the effort," said Laura Smiley, SRU associate professor of theater and the play's director. "We submitted our production as a possible candidate for the festival and out of a pool of more than 30 recommended productions from across the region, we were selected to bring our full production to the festival."

"The cast and crew returned to campus Jan. 5 to remount the production which was originally presented on campus last October. We needed to rework the production and fine-tune performances since we moved from our 175-seat production in the Multi-Purpose Room of the University Union to a full proscenium theater with more than 400 seats. We also had to re-design the lighting, all within a week. The comments and feedback from the festival attendees both students and faculty that I heard following the production were very positive. and it is clear we were among the favorites of those presenting," she said.

The production received a very positive review on, with Tiana Bias writing, "The chilling look on Jean's (played by Rodgers) face says it all. She realizes the man across from her in the café is dead. As she holds a silver spoon to his mouth to see if maybe there is some small chance of life, his cell phone begins to ring, thus beginning our journey through this story of loss, love, redemption, and the unhealthy attachment we all have to our electronic devices."

"Meg Rodgers wows with a mesmerizing performance that keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering why she feels such compassion and a sense of duty toward this man she never met. Her awkward and mild demeanor contrast with that of Gordon (Luke Chamberlain, a student affairs graduate student from Latrobe), the dead man. Chamberlain gives an electrifying monologue at the top of the second act, describing Gordon's last day on earth. He creates a slimy, yet charming character that is just likeable enough for us to appreciate his well-tailored suit...We were transported to a place where as long as your cell phone still rings, a part of you is still alive."

"Slippery Rock University left the audience with the questions of what to do with their cell phones once the inevitable hour of death arrives," Bias wrote.

To read the full review, visit:

The festival drew some 1,200 students and faculty from colleges and universities from Delaware, New Jersey, southwest New York, Ohio, northern Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Productions by Albright College, Alfred University, Bowie State University, Carroll Community College, The College at Brockport-State University of New York, Rowan University and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey were also showcased at the festival. The list was chosen from 50 eligible regional productions.

SRU presented the comedy thriller on campus to open fall semester. The work, which originally premiered in 2007, explores the paradox of technology's ability to unite and isolate people. It examines the mysteries behind the obsession with technology, human character and the inevitability of death despite technology advances.

The regional program ran eight weeks at the Kennedy Center marking excellence and achievement in theater in higher education. Individual participants and full-scale productions are eligible for awards in a number disciplines recognizing excellence in the art and craft of theater.

Individual awardees and representatives from selected productions will be brought to Washington, D.C., for an expense-paid trip to the national festival April 14-19, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The comprehensive list of awardees will be announced in mid-March.

The KCACTF, now in its 46th year, brings together award-recipients from regional festivals around the country. The national festival includes master classes with leading artists from the American theater, an opportunity for the student participants to engage with colleagues from across the nation, attendance at productions at leading Washington, D.C., theaters, interviews and auditions for scholarship and residency opportunities, and the national award ceremony.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.