There is nothing - nothing - more annoying than a loud and incessant cellphone that rings. And rings. And rings. Yet no one answers it.

So, you can understand why Jean, the protagonist in "Dead Man's Cell," did what she did: When she saw the owner of the phone wasn't moving to answer, she picked it up and said "Hello."

Trouble is, the man is dead. And Jean, bless her heart, has decided to tackle all the loose ends in his life.

And so the Sarah Ruhl play begins. Chicken Lipps Productions, in collaboration with Studio Connections, opens the dark comedy next week.

Like many of Ruhl's plays ("The Clean House," "Eurydice"), you'll find she stretches reality, sometimes to a magical point.

But never to the extent that we can't relate.

"Everybody has a cellphone," said Director Laura Lippman. "Everyone can relate to that (incessant ringing), at least."

Jean's world in "Dead Man's Cell," however, is perhaps not so easily accepted.

"There's no logic to this world," said Lippman. "If you apply logic, it doesn't work."

That's a good thing for the director.

"It was really freeing for me. I don't have to be beholden to the logic of this world. That gives me more room to play around with space and movement, and what's normal and not so normal."

In the play, Jean becomes a bit of a social secretary for the dead man, who has shady business dealings, a mistress, a cold mother and a lonely brother. She takes it upon herself to try to pick up the dead man's loose ends.

"I think what Ruhl's trying to go for is the idea of trying to connect with people; that happenstance of connection," said Lippman.

"What happens when you do one thing that you wouldn't normally do. It can open a whole portal. Jean answers the phone and it changes her life. … The play deals with dying or death and the afterlife, and how death connects people."

It also addresses modern-day life - especially technology - in a language that Lippman says is economical, rhythmic and poetic.

"On a large scope, technology can keep us connected," said Lippman. "But in another way, it can keep us from focusing on the person right in front of us. We become more isolated the more we connect."

If you go

• 'Dead Man's Cell'

• By: Sarah Ruhl.

• Director: Laura Lippman.

• Presented by: A collaboration between Chicken Lipps Productions and Studio Connections.

• When: Preview, 7:30 p.m. Thursday; opening 7:30 p.m. next Friday with an opening night reception. Production continues 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 18.

• Where: Studio Connections, 4625 E. River Road, on the grounds of St. Francis in the Foothills.

• Tickets: $18, with discounts available. Thursday's preview is pay what you can, as is a special 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 performance.

• Information/reservations: 400-1424 or

• Cast: Carrie Hill, Avis Judd, Gabriel Nagy, Robert Anthony Peters, Lisa Mae Roether, Martie Van der Voort

• Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.