Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman

was prepared for the March 20, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Play that Bursts a Hi-Tech Bubble or Two

A riddle: What is it that takes away your history and

gives you fresh start? The answer, of course, is

"Ctrl+Alt+Delete,"

the famous command that PC/Mac-heads know offers an escape from the

deep freeze. "Ctrl+Alt+Delete" is also the title of 1981

Princeton

graduate Anthony Clarvoe’s play that has its East Coast premiere at

the George Street Playhouse.

"It actually happened to me in the midst of writing," says

Clarvoe, giving credit to the command as being "a little three-act

play in itself." Clarvoe says he knew he had to cut his losses

and begin again. Ironically, it was something the characters in his

play have to deal with. "Ctrl+Alt+Delete" opens at George

Street on Friday, March 22, and plays until April 14.

Talking about the stock market frenzy and the dot-com boom in the

late ’90s, Clarvoe shares with me how his family and friends, many

of whom are active in the high-tech and investment world, had gone

through a lot in "the crazy stock market bubble in the late

’90s."

It was their involvement that, he says, as a self-described

non-techie,

would inspire him to write a satire that would chronicle the mania.

In Clarvoe’s play, Eddie Fisker, a 20-something entrepreneur he calls

a "kid with a gizmo," the ultimate in wireless connection,

joins forces with Gus Belmont, a venture capitalist and "King

of the Roaring Tech Rocket." With a team of young hotshots wired

to their laptops, Palm Pilots, and cell phones, they spin the story,

launch the stock, and bring in the money. The play poses to us the

subliminal question: When we invest, are we buying a stock or a story?

Clarvoe, commissioned to write a new play by the Wharton Center on

the Michigan State campus, thought it would be fun to write a comedy

about a time "when everyone’s cousin seemed to be leaving his

day job for a startup." The subject was not foreign to him. His

mother, who had just retired after 25 years in the high-tech world,

was a great source of information on the marketing, the hype, and

the dirty dealings.

"While I was writing the play, the San Jose Repertory Theater

Repertory Theater called and asked me if I would consider taking a

commission from them." Clarvoe’s relationship with the San Jose

Rep began when they produced his first play "Pick Up Ax,"

another Silicon-ized play about the foundation myth. "I told them

that I was already writing a play set in the heart of Silicon Valley,

and that it would have been the one I would have written for them,

if they had asked first. Timothy Near, the artistic director of the

San Jose Rep asked to read the play. She (Timothy is a woman) liked

it and produced the world premiere last fall, after the initial

reading

at the Wharton Center and a workshop at South Coast Rep.

Understandably not wanting to name his sources or names, Clarvoe says

he also put out feelers among friends and acquaintances and spent

a few weeks in the offices of high-tech companies like Polyphasic

and Unisys, a huge electronic company, to learn about the world of

"the road warriors." What fascinated him is how we think of

ourselves in this "information and wired world," and how

reliant

we are on whomever is telling us this information.

Clarvoe says that the Enron scandal has shown us "we

can’t trust the accountants, the independent auditors, the Wall Street

brokers, or even government regulators." In the process of

investigating

this wired world for dramatic clues, Clarvoe says he has found that

when people have a vested interest in a property, it is very hard

to keep the story straight.

I asked him if there were any characters in the play we might

recognize.

"It was fun to invent a venture capitalist to end all venture

capitalists and the young American entrepreneur. George Soros, the

man who broke the Bank of England, and John Doerr, one of the more

flamboyant venture capitalists, were major inspirations." For

the character of Fisker, "the kid with the gizmo," Clarvoe

says he used as his model Princeton alumni Jeff Bezos, founder and

CEO of Amazon.com, an exemplar of doing the most with the least —

i.e. "You can’t see it and you can’t touch it, but it’s worth

billions."

As is typical, the play has undergone, according to Clarvoe, the usual

tinkering and changes on its way to George Street, which is mounting

a whole new production from the one seen in San Jose. The changes

for Clarvoe, however, was making sure that the jokes and the timing

were serving the play in the best way. About the reaction of the

audience

in San Jose, he says, "instead of people saying we have to come

back and bring our friends or kids, they would say, I have to bring

back the people in the office. For many who went through a similar

boom or bust experience, it was a cathartic experience."

The play remains under the direction of George Street’s associate

director Ethan McSweeny, who has been at the helm since the beginning.

It was only natural that McSweeny, Clarvoe’s director of choice, would

suggest bringing the play to George Street. Except for one actor —

Sam Gregory, who played Carbury Grendall, the CEO of Gizmo.com, in

San Jose — the remaining cast is new.

New cast members include: Sarah Avery; Jonathan Hogan, who appeared

at GSP in "Voices in the Dark," and on Broadway in "Taking

Steps," "The Homecoming," "Burn This," and "As

Is;" James Ludwig, part of Blue Man Group’s celebrated

"Tubes;"

Daniel Pierce; and K.J. Sanchez. The set designer is Mark Wendland,

who made his Broadway debut with Mark Lamos’ award-winning staging

of "Death of a Salesman." Costumes are by Michael J. Sharpe,

whose designs were seen in "Time of the Cuckoo," at Lincoln

Center, and "Do I Hear A Waltz," at George Street.

Although Clarvoe says that most of his original plays are about

energetic,

ambitious people working hard and dashing around a lot, he has also

found a challenge ("I feel a real obligation to be faithful to

the source material") in adapting such classics as Ibsen’s

"The

Wild Duck" and "Ghosts," and "The Brothers

Karamazov,"

based on Dostoyevsky. In regard to his translations of Ibsen, I am

impressed with Clarvoe, who says he worked directly from the

Norwegian.

"About 10 years ago I could see 30 coming so I quit my day job

running the Pocket Opera company in San Francisco to write plays and

follow my dream — which was making my own art," he says.

Writing

plays is now Clarvoe’s full-time profession. Growing up in California

where he saw a lot of Shakespeare in the summertime, Clarvoe says

it was the spectacle and the remarkable language that ignited his

interest in theater. It is his love of dazzling language that Clarvoe

says makes English playwrights Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard his

favorite contemporaries.

Clarvoe says McSweeny, who served his apprenticeship

at the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C., shares a love

for theatrical language. McSweeny made his Broadway debut last season

directing the revival of "Gore Vidal’s Best Man." He also

directed last season’s George Street revival of Harold Pinter’s

knife-sharp

drama, "Old Times."

Although no one in Clarvoe’s family background is in the theatrical

profession, the San Francisco native is engaged to marry another

member

of the theatrical community. She is Katherine Heasley, a petite

redhead

who has appeared in six of Clarvoe’s plays. Close to home, audiences

may remember her the title role in A.R. Gurney’s "Sylvia"

and the lead in "The Mousetrap" at George Street Playhouse.

Heasley is currently appearing in "Playboy of the Western

World,"

at Playmakers Rep at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Happily, in this instance, the audience, will be more interested in

a story than in a stock. Clarvoe wants us to see that people who

wanted

to believe in a big myth suspended the bubble. On the other hand,

people’s capacity to believe in things larger than they understand

is great. When I suggest that it’s like swimming with the sharks,

he answers with the decidedly more optimistic "or flying with

the eagles." He sees his play as a comic celebration of "The

American Way," as "the ability to reinvent ourselves and

create

new worlds." Clarvoe, who apparently likes exploring new

frontiers,

has been commissioned to write a play about Lewis and Clark. This,

as well as another commission to bring the Indian epic "The

Ramayana"

to the stage. I manage to refrain from asking Clarvoe if he’s selling

shares in these future ventures.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete, George Street Playhouse, 9

Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Opening night; performances run

to April 14. $26 to $41. Friday, March 22, 8 p.m.

Special Event Performances: Post-Play Discussion:

following

previews Wednesday and Thursday, March 20 and 21. Lambda Night:

Thursday, March 28, with a 6:30 p.m. reception. Audio Described

Performance: Thursday, April 4, at 8 p.m. Sunday Symposium

featuring collaborators from the production is Sunday April 7,

following

the 2 p.m. performance. Open-Captioned Performance: Saturday,

April 13, at 2 p.m.


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