November 2128, 1996
The theater community gets together to help two of its own.
By David Warner
Among Philadelphia actors, Scott Greer and Jennifer Childs are the class couple. I mean that in both senses of the word they're classy, accomplished performers, and they're arguably the most popular kids in the "class."
"They're not only extremely talented but incredibly nice people," says Terry Nolen, producing director of the Arden Theater Company, where both have appeared frequently. "They're the kind of people for whom you wish only the best."
So when word spread that Scott and Jen had been in a bad auto accident Friday morning, the news struck at the very heart of the Philadelphia theater community.
Jen, 28, has been a familiar figure on area stages since her days as an undergrad at UArts. A 4-foot-11-inch strawberry blonde with crackerjack comic timing and a glowing stage presence, she deservedly won a Barrymore last month for her work in the Wilma's Escape from Happiness. Scott, 26, who came here a little over four years ago from Atlanta to be an apprentice at the Walnut, has shown a remarkable versatility in parts ranging from the sweet, idealistic monk in Incorruptible to the blithely corrupt Happy in Death of a Salesman (both at the Arden). Like any actors cobbling together a living here, they teach as well as perform; they were on their way to a Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival workshop at Academy Park High School last Friday when the accident occurred.
Scott was at the wheel of his Honda Civic and coming off I-95 at the Bartram Avenue exit at 7:15 a.m. when a station wagon hit the car on the passenger side. Scott was unharmed, but the prospects for Jen at first appeared grim.
"She didn't respond when I screamed her name and slapped her face," says Scott. "I thought she was dead."
Jen was cut from the car with the Jaws Of Life and taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Center City. The injuries were serious: internal bleeding, a bruise on the brain, a collapsed lung, lacerations to the spleen and liver and fractures in her pelvis, ribs and vertebrae. "I was terrified," said Scott. He not only had to contend with the fact that the woman he loved had been badly hurt, but there would soon be a whole litany of practical setbacks to deal with: the loss of their car (a major problem for working actors in Philadelphia), gigs to cancel, auditions that would be missed, lists of phone calls to make...
In the waiting room outside intensive care on Friday afternoon, Scott looked very young, very scared and utterly exhausted. But even that early on, the news was beginning to improve: the bleeding had stopped, the bruise was not serious. And as the weekend progressed, the diagnoses kept getting more hopeful and doctors moved her from intensive care into a regular room.
And the calls, and the flowers, and the visitors kept streaming in.
"I don't think people in the ICU had ever seen anything like it," says Scott. (The Arden's Aaron Posner wound up creating a schedule of visitors to accommodate the three-person-at-a-time ICU visitors' limit.) Before long, the clerks at the information desk were saying, "Jennifer Childs' room, seventh floor," before visitors had a chance to ask.
But the couple's friends have done more than visit. Karen Hinton and Alix Smith are sharing their apartment with Jen's mother, Suzie Childs, and two sisters (all of whom flew in from Ohio). Other friends, says Suzie, have dropped off food. Pete Pryor, the couple's onetime roommate, skipped his night job in New York and took the train down to Philly as soon as he heard the news. An elementary school teacher who takes Jen's improv class at the Arden asked her students to draw pictures of their fantasies for Jen's recovery "I wish you could be at my house having some drinks" and they're now hung all over the walls of her hospital room.
But most important of all is the Jenefit. That's the nickname for a special performance being planned by the popular improv troupe Comedy Sportz to help the couple offset the financial hardships of losing a car and jobs. Actor Megan Bellwoar and Barrymore administrator Liz Walsh are spearheading the event, which will take place at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 1 at the new Wilma (the Zizkas have donated the space for the evening). The show will feature almost the entire Comedy Sportz team of 25 people (a virtual Who's Who of local comic talent) in a two-and-a-half-hour show with "lots of audience participation." Tickets are $15, and the organizers are hoping friends will start a phone chain, each one calling five more people to encourage them to go.
Best part: it looks very likely that both Scott and Jen, Comedy Sportz team members themselves, will be able to attend. Don't expect Jen to perform, of course, but the prognosis at press time was that she'd be out of the hospital by the end of the week and on crutches for a while after that. (And if she can't get to the benefit in person, she'll be hooked up via satellite. No kidding.)
Surrounded by friends and family in her hospital room Tuesday night, patched up and wrapped up and forced to lie flat, she said she was feeling "stiff and scratchy." But her sense of humor was intact, even when it came to tales of hospital hygiene and morphine dreams. And the eyepatch, she assured us, was for double vision it was not another curling iron accident.
"My body is in complete pain," she said the next day, "but my spirits are good."
Last Thursday night, during the Wilma's public think session on local theater, I asked the other panelists to define the amorphous term "Philadelphia theater community." The phrase gets bandied about a lot, but does such a community a cohesive, mutually supportive group of theater artists and organizations really exist?
None of us knew that, on the following morning, something would happen that would give the community a chance to answer the question in no uncertain terms.
That answer, it seems, is yes.
Comedy Sportz Jenefit, Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce, Sun., Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. For info, call 242-4295. If you can't come to the show, send donations c/o Jenefit Fund, Comedy Sportz, 321 S. 16th St., Phila. PA 19102.