Scott Organ’s PHOENIX

It’s getting harder to find Monday night performances in New York, these days.  And since a lot of people look for the opportunity, when most shows are dark, it’s also hard to find a good seat in whatever’s open.  But early in my New York planning, I came across Phoenix, a new play by Virginia/Brooklyn playwright, Scott Organ.

IMG_1880        Among others, it’s a Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production, where a friend is Production Manager, and it’s staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre, an old favorite venue.  It had apparently managed to catch the eye of the right people, including Julia Stiles and James Wirt, who are appearing in it.  And I heard the film of the play is already in preproduction. So putting it all together, it sounded promising.

        [BUZZER!] … NOT! Turns out the movie project is an entirely separate enterprise with completely different personnel and actors.  I don’t know whether Mr. Organ is doing the screenplay, but hopefully he’ll have more to say, or rather, more happening, by that time, than he did in his stage play: Once again: a two-character play (relatively cheap to produce in today’s economy).  The woman is pregnant after a one-night stand, but wants nothing to do with the man or a baby.  She confronts the man, who inexplicably wants to accompany her from New York to Phoenix, where she plans on an abortion.  He does show up there despite her discouragement.  There’s lots of clippy chatter, or should I say endless banter, between them, until finally, everything ends up back where it started.  I do have to admit that some of the banter was very clever and funny. It just didn’t seem to lead us anywhere.

Naturally, AFTER I had bought my discount ticket, the play officially opened, and the reviews came out, pretty much warning me to stay away.  Since I don’t always listen to the critics, I didn’t stay away.  And I pretty much agree that I could just as well have missed it.  The two actors were agreeable enough, and Julia Stiles has a nice competent, good-looking persona that makes you listen, admire and respect.  But the production seemed oh so slow and self-important. This was not one of my crap-shoots that paid off.

What really captured my interest, though, that I had never seen before in a professional New York context, was the response of the director, Jennifer DeLia, on whom the critics seemed to heap most of their scorn.  This was her first off-Broadway directing gig, and she did not take kindly to the criticism. Hitting back at them point by point under the show description on, she explained her views on art and presumed to help readers understand the true depths of a play that remains misunderstood by ignorant New York critics. She sums it all up with the following statement:

       “We have thought through every decision made in this not-so-conventional piece and those of us involved couldn’t be more proud of our embracing the existential quest these two characters are on—as Bruce learns some of the biggest news of his life on this journey—and as Sue opens up to a man for her first time after seeing how honest and humble he is. I love that art is subjective and “cheers” to those who are uncomfortable while watching our play. And an even bigger “cheers” to the majority of our audiences who are quite sophisticated, have imagination, and appreciate the exploration of the many layers to Sue’s and Bruce’s psyches and, as well, to the production.”


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2 Responses to Scott Organ’s PHOENIX

  1. I checked out the playwright’s website, and he describes this play as “A feckless evening between two twice-shy strangers has implications neither of them could have predicted.” I would think that the first half of this sentence would frighten away any artistic director or ticket buyer (feckless and twice shy characters?), but the second half offers some hope. The play has an enviable script history (Humana, Barrow). Bill, where do you think this production got it wrong? Slow pacing I get, of course, but I wonder if the self-importance was in the acting or elsewhere.

  2. Bill Rough says:

    Hi Stephen,
    It’s all a question of personal taste, of course, but I guess I’d start with the script, despite its credentials. It’s got some very clever and fun repartee in the dialogue, and the initial basic situation is intriguing. And that’s often enough to swing readers. But if a woman looks up a man she doesn’t know, with whom she’s had a one-night fling, only to tell him she’s getting an abortion and wants nothing further to do with him, I’d eventually want to know a little more about her. And there is no revelation of the “why.” Nor does any reason emerge for the man’s need to join her in Phoenix for the big event, other than to persuade her to continue the pregnancy, which the audience knows well before he does. And when he does finally beg her to change her mind, she doesn’t. So there is no pay-off, other than the woman’s ultimate admission that she “likes” him, which the audience was onto from the beginning. So nothing has changed. There is no real character or plot development, and any “implications” were entirely predictable.
    Add to that the director’s annoying insistence on slowing everything down and turning up the music during the frequent scene changes, and her tendency to throw in some completely distracting stage movement (cartwheels?), just for fun, just to be different, whether or not it had anything to do with the story. That’s where the self-importance crossed the line for me, and it didn’t seem like it was coming from the actors. The end result was an unfocused mish-mash of two strange people whom you never really want to get to know. They can talk the talk, but …

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