At a time when local stages are awash in holiday-themed entertainment, much of it glitzy and big-budget, one of the most intriguing congregations of talent will converge for a low-budget staged reading. On Dec. 5, the Firehouse Theatre will play host to “Phoenix,” a dramatic comedy that will star two local acting powerhouses: Scott Wichmann, who, among many other achievements, played every character in “It's a Wonderful Life” for a show at the Barksdale; and Laine Satterfield, who recently electrified the Firehouse stage with her turn as Martha in “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
This dynamic duo will be directed by Keri Wormald, who has received her share of local acclaim for stints at the helm of several award-winning productions for Barksdale Theatre, including “Doubt” and “The Syringa Tree.”
The play that has drawn together such top-line talent was written by a native of Chester, Scott Organ, who will be in attendance at the staged reading. Though Organ has achieved a level of success as a playwright — works of his have appeared in prestigious collections such as 2005's “New American Short Plays” and “Best American Short Plays, 2002-2003” — he is familiar to the average television viewer because of his work as a commercial actor. You know the guy who gets dumped via text, e-mail and imminent phone call while sitting across from his girlfriend in that Sprint ad? That's Organ. The guy in the Citibank commercial who takes his family to Norway only to find out they're Swedish? Also Organ.
“Phoenix” is a bit of a departure for Organ. His plays usually include numerous characters and involve ambitious plots and subplots. “Phoenix” is a two-hander, just a man and a woman with a difficult relationship. The woman, Sue, wants to keep her distance from Bruce, a man she had a one-night fling with. But Bruce is determined to follow her when she leaves New York for Phoenix, Ariz., causing no end of complications.
Currently living in Brooklyn, N.Y., Scott spoke to Style Weekly about “Phoenix,” writing plays and the whimsical world of commercials.
Style: Do people recognize you on the street because of commercials such as the Sprint ad?
Scott Organ: It's kind of a unique thing. I get a lot of looks. It's a look that's like “I think I know you from somewhere.” But I don't get outright recognized. The actor who played the dad [in the Citibank commercial] would get stopped on the street all the time but not me.
You've done several national commercials that have gained a lot of exposure. Is there any secret to getting cast for those?
I describe it all as very whimsical. I was trying out for commercials for four years without booking a single thing. I don't know that I was doing anything different. Sometimes it's a look thing. People used to tell me “You have to shave.” But I wasn't booking anything so I didn't shave and now there are bearded guys all over TV. It's whatever the zeitgeist is at the moment.
Is any one of your commercials your favorite?
It's always fun when the work you do comes together in a nice way like in the Sprint ad. But commercials can be very frustrating. The people working on them can be immensely talented and they come up with some great ideas. But there are so many middlemen that have to approve the final product. Some companies spend a huge amount on commercials and they end up putting half of them in the garbage.
Do you feel like growing up in Chester influenced your work in any specific ways?
Some playwrights get kind of self-involved. They'll say, “I've got this great new play about a playwright who can't get published.” I like to tap into other things. I write a fair amount about people in relationship to their work and I access my experiences working in Virginia for that. I spent time working at Westvaco; I've worked at UPS. When I'm writing, I also like to throw in names of places from around Chester.
Is there a play on words with “Phoenix,” not just as a city but also as something rising from the ashes?
That ended up being a happy coincidence. I was poking around for a city that was far away from New York. I chose Phoenix because it was far away and so different from where [the play] begins. You can have fun with the staging because you can play with contrasts. The Grand Canyon also plays a part in the story line. After the fact, I thought about the symbolism and thought, “Well, that kind of works, too.”
“Phoenix” will play at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. on Sunday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation is $5; students and subscribers attend free. Call 355-2001 for details.