A few good men were involved in the invention of television. That's the subject of the play The Farnsworth Invention, written by Oscar and Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, The Social Network, Moneyball) and opening tonight at 7:30 p.m. in previews at Theatre Three, where it will run through March 17.
The play focuses on the two men who battled to control the development of TV. Idaho farm boy Philo T. Farnsworth, played at T3 by actor Alex Organ, was a teenage genius when he put together the first components of a machine that could transmit live images electronically. His invention then was poached, or adapted (if you're more generous) by RCA president and NBC founder David Sarnoff, played by Jakie Cabe. The men fought over rights and patents for more than a decade. One had wealth and power; the other had the idea. Guess which one died drunk and broke?
More about the play and the Dallas actor playing the underdog after the jump.
In the play, the characters of Farnsworth and Sarnoff take turns narrating each other's story. "It's not a story about television," Aaron Sorkin told an interviewer when the play premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2007. "It's an optimistic story about the spirit of exploration." In the role of Philo Farnsworth at Theatre Three is 30-year-old actor Alex Organ, who is optimistic about the spirit of Dallas theater right now. A graduate of Abilene Christian College, Organ earned his MFA in acting from Yale in 2006. After "doing the New York thing" for a couple of years, Organ moved to Dallas with fiancée Jenny Ledel (currently co-starring in Second Thought Theatre's Pluck the Day).
Organ was soon onstage in Shakespeare Dallas' Two Gentlemen of Verona and Dallas Theater Center's A Christmas Carol. He had his first real starring role in the hot production of Red Light Winter at Second Thought last year, then tore up the scenery as the sadistic dentist in WaterTower Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors. He went back to the classics again with roles at Shakespeare Dallas and Fort Worth's Trinity Shakespeare company.
This busy actor, who also teaches acting at KD College, makes his Theatre Three debut in The Farnsworth Invention, directed by Jeffrey Schmidt. Let's get to know Alex Organ.
A degree from Yale School of Drama is the ultimate pedigree for a young actor. Didn't it open the right doors in New York? Alex Organ: Believe it or not, I have always had an eye to coming back to Texas to live and work and build a permanent base. I did New York because I was 24 and that is the time to do it. But it never felt like home. I always felt like I was visiting. I really crave a tight community of artists that you can find in a town like this that you can't in New York. I was working up there. I did several productions and did the obligatory Law & Order: SVU appearance. I am in the cold opening for an episode where a young lady and I find a body at the bottom of an elevator shaft.
Is Dallas' busy theater scene what lured you back? I'm speaking as someone who languished in New York for several years and then moved down here. I have a great perspective of the scene here. I'm in love with it. We certainly have a ways to go but we're trending upward. It seems like there's been a great influx of talented people [to Dallas theater] over the past few years. Companies are pushing the envelope more and taking more risks, which is exciting. Last year we had a lot of really strong productions. It was really exciting to be part of.
You've certainly benefited from the easy access actors here seem to have in working at many companies, not having to be loyal to one. I guess I'm kind of in that phase where I'm trying companies out. I'm a member of the union [Actors Equity] and there are only so many union gigs around. I'm enjoying the opportunity to work constantly.
Aaron Sorkin' dialogue has a recognizable rat-a-tat rhythm. Will we hear that West Wing cadence in The Farnsworth Invention? It's certainly in Sorkin's voice. The style is unique. The whole play we're constantly switching back and forth between Philo's story and Sarnoff's story. They each step out and narrate each story, back and forth. Our two characters are constantly stepping out of the moment and jumping back in. We're talking directly to the audience.
What's your dream role? It changes every day. Right now, if it was a musical, I think this town needs a really good prod of Floyd Collins. I would kill to play that part. In classical realm, I'd like to do Iago someday [in Othello].
What was the hardest class you took in grad school at Yale? One of the great things about the program, you take a lot of different classes. It's just a complete immersion into this training. You're doing it seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. They recognize that not every class will create a spark in every person. I had to take a circus class, which meant juggling for a semester. Now I can juggle three balls. The best class, one that really blew me away was the third-year voice class. It was all one-on-one tutorials doing Fitzmaurice technique [a holistic method of training actors to speak and breathe without tension]. I'd never done it before. It just opened some floodgates and broke down walls for me. I loved it.
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You're in a play about the invention of television. What do you watch on TV in real life? We're really into Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. I watch Jon Stewart and Colbert every day. We've recently been watching Breaking Bad on Netflix, which may be the best thing I've ever seen on television.
What do you say to those snobs who claim they never watch TV? To each his own. I certainly think the amount of garbage on television far outweighs the quality stuff.
See Alex Organ starring in The Farnsworth Invention, February 16-March 17, Theatre Three. For tickets, 214-871-3300.