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
the famous command that PC/Mac-heads know offers an escape from the
deep freeze. "Ctrl+Alt+Delete" is also the title of 1981
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
It was their involvement that, he says, as a self-described
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Wild Duck" and "Ghosts," and "The Brothers
based on Dostoyevsky. In regard to his translations of Ibsen, I am
impressed with Clarvoe, who says he worked directly from the
"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.
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
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
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
of the theatrical community. She is Katherine Heasley, a petite
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
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
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
new worlds." Clarvoe, who apparently likes exploring new
has been commissioned to write a play about Lewis and Clark. This,
as well as another commission to bring the Indian epic "The
to the stage. I manage to refrain from asking Clarvoe if he’s selling
shares in these future ventures.
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:
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,
the 2 p.m. performance. Open-Captioned Performance: Saturday,
April 13, at 2 p.m.
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