Dave Sorg loves playing the villain. So he was thrilled to land the role of the mean, spiteful Mr. Potter in First Presbyterian Theater's production of “It's a Wonderful Life,” which opens with a preview show tonight.
“It's just fun to play somebody different than who you are,” said the semi-retired endocrinologist. “Most of my patients think I'm a pretty nice guy. If anything, they can't imagine me not being nice.”
The 79-year-old returned to the local stage around 2005 after about a 50-year absence. He was in theater in college, but once he got in medical school and then became a doctor who sometimes had on-call duties, he didn't have the time.
If he could have, “I would have been doing it all along,” he said. “I love it.”
The first time he tried out for “It's a Wonderful Life,” he got “about the smallest role they had.” In 2006, he played Mr. Gower, the pharmacist. In 2008, he played Mr. Potter, so this is his second time in that role.
Since he's been back in theater, this is his 14th show. His favorite role was in “Twelve Angry Men” at Arena Dinner Theatre, when he got to play the bigot.
As he said, he enjoys playing the bad guy.
Thom Hofrichter, managing artistic director at First Presbyterian, agrees it's more fun to play the bad guy. In the movie, Potter was famously played by Lionel Barrymore. James Stewart played George Bailey, and Donna Reed played Mary Hatch Bailey.
The movie is such a classic, so beloved and well-known, it presents a challenge when presented onstage.
“I don't want to just copy the movie, yet you know the movie is going to be in the consciousness of many of the (audience members),” Hofrichter said.
Not to mention many of the scenes in the movie would be impossible to stage: George jumping off the bridge, George and Mary falling into the pool, George saving his brother when he falls through the ice.
The play adaptation solves these problems through narration. Clarence, George Bailey's guardian angel, appears early in the stage production and narrates the scenes that can't be replicated onstage.
The play also rearranges some scenes in the movie. In fact, the scene where George is about to jump in the river happens at the beginning of the play. Clarence appears and stops George from jumping in.
Laurence Brown plays George Bailey in this year's show.
Hofrichter said he used to watch the movie “It's a Wonderful Life” every year. He notes it's “not really a Christmas story” other than that events happen on Christmas Eve. Still, he sees George Bailey as a “Christ-like human being.”
“George Bailey is born in order to help other people,” Hofrichter said, adding Bailey “sacrifices himself for the greater good of the community.”
Hofrichter draws a parallel between George and Christ, who was born to sacrifice himself for others.
“I think what (George) realizes is that the reality of helping somebody standing right next to you is much greater than the dream of saving the world,” Hofrichter said.