Wall Street-Smart : * Scott Seiffert's experience with a consulting firm helped him concoct a murder mystery in which he also performs at the Richard Basehart Playhouse.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times

Actor and playwright Scott Seiffert didn't realize he was gathering background information when he went to work for a Wall Street consulting firm four years ago.

It just turned out that way.

"I was in direct contact daily with executives," said Seiffert, 24, whose "Backstabbing: Murder on the Corporate Ladder," set on Wall Street, is in previews at the Richard Basehart Playhouse. "The president, the CEO--I began observing them, their idiosyncrasies."

The result is a seven-character murder mystery that begins when one of the executives is found dead, and his office mates begin scrambling for the open job.

"It becomes musical chairs--who moves up in the office," said director Cynthia Baer, who is also artistic director of the Playhouse. "They're heartless, nasty, at each other's throats. Then another murder happens, and the scare brings out the good things in them, their vulnerability."

Baer said she tries to stage a mystery on a regular basis: "Audiences want to laugh, have a good time; they love mysteries. And if I don't direct every once in a while, I get cranky."

Seiffert has known Baer since he was an actor in the Basehart's 1989 production of "The Mousetrap," and Baer was the first person he shopped the play to when he returned to Los Angeles a few months ago.

And now things are really taking off: In addition to "Backstabbing," Seiffert's first play, "Perfect Son" (about a young man whose homosexuality is revealed as his sister's wedding approaches) opens tonight at the 13th Street Theatre in New York.

Seiffert will also appear in this play in a role he admits he intended for himself--the firm's youngest senior director. "It was hard to turn down; the writer wrote me such a good role," he quipped. Since the roles range in age from 26 to 60, the writer said, "the nice thing is, I can play every other role as I get older--except for the female characters."

Born in Bozeman, Mont., (a nouveau-trendy community whose residents include Anjelica Huston, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda and Ted Turner), Seiffert was shaped by what he calls "a big artist's community. It was a college town with a lot of writers. Richard Brautigan was a big influence on me; we'd sit and have the longest conversations."

Although Seiffert's parents weren't in the arts--his father is a plumber, his mother works at a science firm--they fully supported his artistic ambitions.

"I've got the coolest parents in the world," Seiffert said fondly. When it comes to writing about familial Angst, he said, "I have to observe my friends' families."

After majoring in acting at Montana State University, Seiffert moved to California. Soon after, he began temping at the West Coast office of Quotron Systems Inc., which provides stock market information for brokers.

"The woman I was working for was great," he said. "She gave me the freedom to leave whenever I wanted to do shows--or go to rehearsals or an audition. It was a dream job, very rare."

After transferring to the company's New York office in 1991, Seiffert began to try his hand at playwriting. Soon after "Perfect Son" was completed, he directed a weeklong run at American Theatre of Actors--which led to that play's current staging. As for "Backstabbing," a series of New York readings has stoked his confidence in the piece.

"I know there are belly laughs," he said. "And there's also a suspense factor, 'cause you just don't know whodunit."

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Backstabbing: Murder on the Corporate Ladder."

Location: Richard Basehart Playhouse, 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 27.

Price: $10 to $16.

Call: (818) 704-1845.

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