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A River From the Past

Growing up with asthma, Sharon Dennis Wyeth spent much of her childhood in the public library, engrossed in books with characters that were never like herself. "Much later I found Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s `Light in August,’" she says. "He was the first light-skinned African-American protagonist I ever met. Even though I couldn’t really identify with such a worldly character, I realized how much I missed reading about people like me." A writer of children’s fiction for the last 10 years, Wyeth — who is in her late 40s and a resident of Upper Montclair — is helping fill that narrative vacuum.

She has written a successful picture book entitled "Always My Dad" and authored several series, including one on character Ginger Brown for First Stepping Stone Books. In her 1994 young adult novel, "The World of Daughter McGuire," Wyeth set a girl of mixed race in the same Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., where she grew up, "a struggling, working class neighborhood," while "Vampire Bugs" in 1995 presented six tales based on African-American legends and songs.

"Once on This River" is her young adult historical novel published this month by Alfred A. Knopf, and it continues her imaginative journey back into the teeming though seemingly invisible world of her black ancestors. "Very few signs of the African-American presence have been preserved, and I had so little sense of my own past identity," Wyeth says. "I knew so little about the people in whose memory I call myself African American." Wyeth kicks off the Black History Month programs at the William Trent House with a reading from "Once on This River" on Sunday, February 1, at 2 p.m.

What Wyeth calls the "springboard" inspiration for the novel was a 1749 estate inventory she found at Philipsburg Manor on the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. Compiled after the death of the manor’s owner, the inventory lists, among the silver tankards and "earthen pots," the given names of 23 slaves. "My

imagination was really caught, and my heart went out to those people who had no

last names. Their occupations and relationships weren’t noted either, but I knew they had been together for quite a long time — and were about to be sold. I was very touched by the starkness of that list."

Another shard that worked on Wyeth’s imagination was a petition written by a freeborn black who’d served in the British Navy, only to be captured by the French during the Seven Years’ War and sold into slavery. "He wrote to the Attorney General of New York in 1769, asking help in regaining his freedom. Seeing this man’s handwriting, which was fine penmanship for the time, on paper so worn, I was moved to tears. It was couched in such respectful language —

it had to be because it was a formal petition — but imagine the rage, the injustice, not just of the entire institution of slavery but in this one man. When you can connect with an individual story, you get a little glimmer of the struggle these people went through."

That actual petitioner became, in "Once on This River," the character Frederick de Groot, whose 11-year-old niece, Monday, returns to America from Madagascar with her midwife mother to help him secure his freedom.

Set in 1760 in New York City and the Hudson Valley, the novel depicts the world of colonial African Americans, some enslaved and some members of the vibrant community of free blacks that lived for several generations in what is now the West Village. Several characters are slaves sold from Philipsburg Manor 10 years earlier. Instead of being invisible — the usual hue of African Americans in historical records and fiction — blacks are present in every one of the novel’s settings, just as they were in actual colonial life, from the remote de Groot family farm near Kingston along the Hudson, to the Dutch pinkster celebration at Philipsburg Manor that the African Americans make their

own, to the sight and sound of slaves being sold along Manhattan’s crowded wharves.

For Wyeth, writing the novel was an immersion not only in the drama of slavery but in the whole spectrum of black experience.

"I hadn’t really planned on having a free African-American protagonist," she says. "The idea came to me right off the bat, but I was doubtful at first. How plausible was it to have a woman booking passage on a boat for herself and her daughter, a woman working as a midwife and visiting relatives who were free African people? It took research and consultation with historians to convince me it definitely could have happened."

She toured the areas settled during the colonial era in New York City and was influenced by information from Manhattan’s African Burial Ground. Much of Wyeth’s research took place at the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division, and New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Although there are a growing number of important scholarly works on slavery, it was primary sources that proved invaluable: newspaper clippings on runaway slaves, some of whom were skilled blacksmiths fluent in French; ships’ logs in their captains’ hand, documenting their slave cargo beside the bolts of calico. "The people were all mixed up with the

objects," Wyeth recalls. "It’s one thing to hear about slavery, but to

actually see these meticulous records, it just leaps off the page and I found

it shattering." Excerpts of the public recorded head each chapter of "Once on This River."

Her research provided details not only on the life of slaves — a revelation, since "we don’t associate slavery with the North" — but on the free community of New York blacks. It also changed her perception of colonial African Americans. "The prevalent image in our national psychology is of blacks as poor, powerless victims. That’s the story we tell ourselves about slavery. We know there were a few exceptions like Sojourner Truth, but we think most of our ancestors were despised people who couldn’t help themselves — and who

couldn’t read, to boot! I became aware of a variety of people, living in

communities under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, a picture of a much

more varied population which, for me, was very liberating."

Having lost her father when she was young, Wyeth was one of four children raised by her mother, Evon Dennis, "a black woman on her own, putting herself through school, starting out as a secretary and traveling as far as she could go. The older I get, the more respect I have for her accomplishments." Wyeth’s mother began working with computers "when they were still as big as cows," starting out as a programmer and continuing as computer librarian for the space program. Wyeth began writing in elementary school — "plays, poetry, my own journal, the school newspaper" — and spent two summers during high school as a public relations writer for the Office of Economic Opportunity, doing newspaper features on VISTA volunteers. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1970 with a major in social relations, "a combination of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. It was great background for a writer."

She moved to New York City after her graduation, working as a family counselor for five years while she studied acting in the evenings. By the time she and a partner opened their own off-Broadway theater, she was a full time performer and playwright. When her theater closed and her interest in acting waned, a tough apprenticeship in genre fiction taught her writing fundamentals. "I wrote for soap opera and then a supermarket series of 10 romance novels, doing each book

in eight weeks. As a playwright, I knew I had a gift for atmosphere and dialogue, but I found plot to be incredibly difficult. Writing books so quickly, I learned how to create dramatic action with a beginning, a middle, and an end. That really taught me how to write." After producing several series to publishers’ specifications, Wyeth began to pursue her own ideas and research. She and husband Sims Wyeth, a communications consultant, have a 13-year-old daughter, Georgia.

The characters she created to populate colonial New York City and the Hudson Valley became her adopted, if fictional, family. "I think many African Americans have this craving to know their ancestors," Wyeth says. "When you have somebody backing you up psychologically, people you can respect and identify with, it gives you a great sense of power." For most of her life, the one ancestor of whom she was aware was named Minerve, a slave living in Virginia at the time of the Civil War. Yet as she was revising "Once on This

River," Wyeth met for the first time a great-great aunt Cleo who was in her 90s and living in Jamaica, Queens. "It turns out she’s spent years researching genealogy," says Wyeth. "Now the earliest African-American ancestor I know is a man named Martin Colly, born in 1769, and described in a census as `a freeborn mulatto with a scar on his face.’" He was a property holder, and one of his sons became the first undertaker of Charleston, West Virginia. "They were just two of the people on aunt Cleo’s family tree. I was shocked at how good learning about them made me feel."

Family anecdotes will be worked into Wyeth’s next young readers’ book, to be called "Proud Road." It will be set in Virginia and follow three generations of African-American women. "I’ve been very lucky to be able to contribute to the body of children’s literature," Wyeth says, "which now has much more variety. A child not of color can read books and see the whole road map, the big picture. That child can say, `You were there with me. We were all in it together, just

like we’re all here together now.’ And a child of color can now pick up historical fiction and think, `I was there too! Some of us could read, some of us had land, some of us tried to get away and were punished severely, but many of us made it.’"

On the Road with Bernarda Shahn

Long-time artist and Roosevelt resident, Bernarda Bryson Shahn has always been happiest when she is traveling. In a more innocent time, as a first-year college student in the 1920s, she and a friend spent their spring break walking from Athens, Ohio, to Rising Sun, West Virginia, staying at the farmhouses of both strangers and family along the way. Years later, during the Great Depression in 1935 and 1936, she did all the driving while touring the rural South with her new husband, the artist Ben Shahn, who was on assignment taking

photographs for the historical division of the U.S. Resettlement Administration.

Acknowledging an early influence that inspired her to be such an adventurer and traveler, Bryson Shahn says that as a child at bedtime, she could never nod off to sleep in the usual way when her mother would recite Coleridge’s poem, "The Ancient Mariner." The exciting rise and fall of her mother’s voice, and the unfolding of the wonderful story of adventure, simply banished her drowsiness.

Born in 1903, Bryson Shahn’s spirit of adventure, with its inherent propensity for discovery, has served her well over the past 94 years. Her dynamic inner spirit comprises a potent combination of eager curiosity and illuminating experience, which she aptly translates into artfully drawn images. A well-selected, one-person exhibition titled "Figures of Earth," currently gathers together many of Bryson Shahn’s etchings, drawings, and lithographs which share similar traits. It remains on view to February 11 at the upstairs gallery of the Printmaking Council of New Jersey in Somerville.

By no means a one-note artist, Bryson Shahn’s representational figurative images arise from many rich sources such as history, mythology, and literature as well as the seeable or real world. She says that "seeing leads to thinking of other things." With her technically proficient hand, she animates even cold, hard rocks.

As a self-described "amateur archaeologist," Bryson Shahn looks for the inherent quality of each place she visits. Prompted by visual inspirations from her travels to places such as Kyoto, Japan, Knossos, on Crete, and New Zealand, she draws from a combination of memory and imagination as images come across her inner field of vision.

Personifying sites with her skillful drawing, as in such works as "Figure in a Stony Landscape," she lightly inscribes naturally occurring boulders and rocks with haunting faces, subtle enough to provide only the merest hint of mystery. These anthropomorphic features complement the lone figure who stands with her back toward us as she gazes over a boulder strewn landscape with its feathery poplars standing tall against the horizon. The print evokes a haunting sense of

witnessed loneliness.

The intriguing presence of human activity as geological formations are modified to become paths, stairs, plazas, temples, and passageways are evident in many of Bryson Shahn’s images. Her etching of the ruins of Hagar Qum, in Malta, shows the process of organic dilapidation reminding us of nature’s trick of mortality. In two different versions of the Seacoast at Denia, soft charcoal strokes recreate the hard boulders that envelope a calm blue sea and form the base of distant mountains. She has made even the most rugged of geological materials embody a humanist notion of prevailing endurance.

Although no dates are provided in the catalog, the works on paper in this exhibit have been created in the many years between the earliest 1928 etching, titled "Face," to a 1997 charcoal drawing titled "The Keeper of the Wide World Dump." In the summer of 1996, a number of the etchings and lithographs were shown at the Printmaking Council in a joint show with Jacob Landau’s drawings titled the "Frances Series." Evidently, the 1996 studio visit by Wink Einthoven, the Printmaking Council’s former gallery director, inspired the current thematic, one-person exhibition that has been expertly hung by its

new gallery director, George Taylor.

Bryson Shahn says that many of the places where she has been, even for short periods of time, have had powerful affects on her. In the early 1990s, while on a boat trip of the Nile, she disembarked in the dark gray light before dawn and had the good fortune to reach the Temple at Luxor just as the sun rose and illuminated its facade. "It was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen," she says. It is quite the testament to her enduring spirit of exploration that

even in her late 80s, this artist still experiences the marvelous.

Now primarily a painter in her late career, since the 1970s she has created figurative images that incorporate enchanting motifs of the surreal and references to classical imagery. In 1995, several of her oil paintings on wood panels were displayed at the Princeton Day School along with pottery by her daughter, Abby Shahn, and silk hangings by her granddaughter, Amanda Slamm. Bryson Shahn’s extended family also includes her son Jonathan Shahn, a well-regarded sculptor and Roosevelt resident.

The Printmaking Council is always a hubbub of activity. Presently Robert Schwieger, a visiting artist and arts educator from Missouri Southern University, is printing abstract designs onto recycled wallpaper samples, creating the basic materials for his elaborate constructed works. As the first representative of the council’s brand-new artist-in-residence program, he will have the opportunity to explore his own work in an open sharing environment. This Printmaking Council has arrived, after many years of development, at its goal of providing both member artists and now visiting artists a site to act on their own spirits of adventure and discovery.

`On Bended Knee:’ Low Budget, Big Heart

Could Trenton’s Kevin Williams be the next Kevin Smith? Smith, the Jersey-bred director of "Chasing Amy," made his mark with "Clerks" — a low-budget feature filmed entirely in his home town of Red Bank. Now Williams, with credentials in film, finance, and marketing, is unveiling his own short feature, "On Bended Knee," filmed in his own hometown of Trenton. Much of the

action is set at the Park Place Cafe, and the film will be unveiled there, Friday through Sunday, January 30 to February 1.

Kevin Williams, who goes by the name K.J. Williams in his film pursuits (not to be confused with Kevin Williamson, director of "Scream" and "Scream II"), wouldn’t mind following in any of the other Kevins’ footsteps.

At 19 minutes, 34 seconds ("that’s about three hours shorter than `Titanic,’" notes Williams), "On Bended Knee" is a romantic comedy about the hours before a man makes a marriage proposal.

Beginning with a phone call, followed by a fax, followed by another heartfelt phone call, Williams’ casting call first appeared in U.S.1’s "Auditions" section on June 4 and 11, 1997:

"A central New Jersey filmmaker is auditioning non-union actors and crew for a low-budget short film shooting in late July in Trenton and Mercer County. Need male and female leads in 20s, and an Elvis impersonator (non-speaking part). All races and ages welcome. No pay, but tapes, fun, food, and experience."

Lending a little extra credibility to the call was the formidable name of Williams’ company, Shamrock/Stine Productions, a name he created by combining a tribute to his mother’s Irish roots, and his father’s German-Welsh background. With an additional paid ad ($100) in the New York actors’ paper, Backstage, and a listing on the hotline and website at the Philadelphia film office ($50), Williams’ casting call netted him a monster pile of 710 resumes and headshots. "I was surprised," says Williams. "For a few days I was getting over 100 a day, and I took it as an extreme positive. I got headshots from people in Illinois, Tennessee, and Wyoming. Someone told me they saw the listing on AOL — which I don’t even have myself."

Despite the potentially overwhelming volume of inquiries, Williams reports the initial casting sessions in Trenton and New York went well. "My two leads, Laura Rose and Josh Cohen, both came from the New York City call. Josh is a stand-up comedian by trade. I was really happy with them both, and they hit it off well right away as a couple — which I think says something good about my


Cohen plays the lovestruck young man, Tom Lawrence, who Williams describes as "a local Trenton boy with only a few hours left before the biggest moment of his life. He’s proposing to his upper crust Princeton girlfriend, Renee," played by Rose.

"You never see that time leading up to the proposal," muses Williams. "You always see when the guy proposes, and you see the aftermath, but you never see this." The movie also features some insight on how the King would handle the situation.

Trenton actor Adan Olmeda Jr., who plays the roommate, and Toribio Bo Torres, who plays a young Elvis, both read about the casting call in U.S. 1, as did all the extras. And, true to the ad, everyone worked for food and fun.

Featured in a cameo as Elvis is Frank Grosso, owner of the Park Place Cafe, who has been polishing his Elvis impersonation since 1990. The film was shot in 3-1/2 days in late July, primarily at the Park Place Cafe and also at Terry Pratico Jewelers in Plainsboro. Terry, one of the store’s owners, is married to Williams’ brother.

Marc Schotland was photography director and cameraman with assistant Lorenzo Papa of Trenton — both had worked on student projects with Williams in New York.

Following the lead of such directors as Martin Scorsese ("Goodfellas"), Williams cast his mother, Grace, in the film. "She only has one line, but it’s a key line. And that was by far the toughest scene to direct." Was this because Grace, the mother of six sons and a daughter, of whom Kevin is the youngest, is more accustomed to giving directions to her son, than taking them? "You said it, I didn’t," replies Williams.

Williams, who turnsd 30 this year, majored in business at La Salle (Class of ’90), and has an MBA in marketing from Tulane. When he’s not making movies, he is a part-time market researcher at Response Analysis.

His filmmaking debut began on the heels of a five-month graduate program he completed last spring at the prestigious film school of New York University. "I’ve always been a serious movie buff," says Williams. His parents introduced him to film, and his late father, who worked as a technician at Princeton University Press, would occasionally bring home books on film they had published. From these Williams learned at an early age that movies are not just for escapists.

Williams cites "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" as the most impressive film of his early viewing years. It was a movie he saw just once in the theater and then on television — "that was before cable and video cassettes, when it was a big deal to see a big movie on TV," he says. "It brought so many elements

together, the visuals, the sound (bom, bom, bom) — everything brings in the audience. And I realized there’s more to making a film than just shooting a camera." His other important film experiences included "Grease" and "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Williams’ favorite movie of all time, however, is "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which he saw when he was 13. "It’s a movie that is exciting, it brings you back to the excitement of a kid seeing something for the first time," says Williams. With the advent of cable, his movie fascination was confirmed, and he quickly became a self-confessed "HBO junkie."

For Williams, the arrival on the Princeton scene of the "I.Q." movie crew galvanized his attention. It also gave him the hands-on, on-the-job training he was seeking before deciding whether to make the movie plunge. For six weeks Williams worked as one of two assistants to the extras casting director, Marshall Peck. "I picked the extras, including the stand-in for Walter Matthau," says Williams. "With that I learned a lot. I learned how the casting process goes, and how to look for someone who’s going to tell your story but not overwhelm your story."

"The more you learn about the technical and physical aspects of film, the better the results are going to be from a financial and creative standpoint," says Williams. His original budget was $2,900, but, like "Titanic," he had a slight cost overrun, with the extra expense due to post-production. "It is a business, even on small level, and there are management and financial skills you

have to have. If you don’t have them, you’re going to waste your time and money."

"After the premiere, I’ll be sending `On Bended Knee’ off to film festivals. From that I hope to be able to meet people who can back a project I’d like to do, or who would want me to direct or shoot a project." Williams notes that Michael Bey, director of "The Rock," got his start in commercials in New York.

His goal? To shoot a full-length feature in Trenton, taking advantage of the sweep of its varied landscape, from 19th-century industrial, to urban decay, and suburban sprawl. It’s even got picturesque Princeton.

"The final shooting cost for `Clerks,’ before they had distribution, was $27,000," says Williams, who knows his facts and figures. "Smith submitted it to Sundance in 1994 and Miramax picked it up. Now he’s got `Chasing Amy,’ and he’ll be shooting his new movie shortly. I’m going to try to get Kevin Smith to see my film."

Survival Guide

These articles were written by Peter J. Mladineo and Barbara Fox

Overcoming the Barriers To Growth

In 20 years of working with growth-oriented companies, Aldonna Ambler has observed an unwritten rule: a true entrepreneur isn’t afraid to grow a company. The owner of six businesses, including Ambler Growth Strategy Consultants, based in Hammonton, Ambler is adamant about her definition.

"I tend to deal with people who have been trying to go for growth, who have been oriented to creating jobs, risk takers," she says. "Dozens of my clients are the people who appear on the Inc. list of fastest growing companies. They really are entrepreneurs."

In order to grow, she maintains, entrepreneurs need to cast off selfish

pretensions for being in business. "One of the distinctions I try to make is when are you running from something and when are you running towards something. If you’re really running towards something, you have a much better chance to grow the business."

The key to entrepreneurism is located in the core of why someone opens a business, Ambler explains. The motives better be pure. "For some people in business, the primary reason they’re in business is that something went wrong," she says. "They had a corporate job they didn’t want, they got laid off, they can’t get along with authority, or they want to be home with their kids — all nice reasons to be in business, but not a way to drive growth in a

business. They drive the start-up of a business, but that’s not what’s going

to grow it."

Fond of terminology, Ambler tags those businesses started for the wrong reasons as "incorporated careers." "You’d be surprised how many people that look on the surface like they’re entrepreneurs are just business owners," she says.

Ambler is a Certified Management Consultant (one of the first women to achieve this) and only the eighth person ever to attain both the CMC and CSP (a public speaking certification) certificates. She is the featured speaker at the first

of Princeton Chamber’s Chamber College series on Thursday, January 29, at 8 a.m., at Sarnoff Corporation. The three-hour session costs $50 for those who are not chamber members and is sponsored by Edward Jones Investments, PNC and Summit banks, and Withum Smith & Brown. Call 609-520-1776.

To become an entrepreneur, a business owner must go through a rite of passage, which Ambler calls a "magic moment" when the owner suddenly changes the goal of the business very subtly. "They seem go back into business," she says. "The public can’t see it. They don’t announce it but they’re different that day. It’s really transforming." Soon after, the business owner will have another epiphany: the realization that the business must start turning a profit. "That sounds corny too, but those two things are the two barriers to growth that I

address," Ambler says.

These metamorphosed outlooks often foster a host of other changes in the way the business is run. Hiring practices are usually one of the first on the list to change. "At first you hire cheap and loyal, otherwise known as relatives," says Ambler. "You cut corners and you’re trying to keep the costs down, and you don’t want someone too smart and aggressive. But when you actually have these

moments, then you want to have smart employees. You don’t want to have someone who’s just going to shut up and listen. You want to hire brights."

Related to this is the notion that employees will treat an entrepreneurial

minded boss differently. "If you’re communicating on a daily basis that you’re really just an incorporated career and it’s just about you, why should they stick around past 5 o’clock?"

Some entrepreneurs manage to grow their businesses at a mad clip despite their selfish motives, Ambler concedes, but their expansive efforts often meet catastrophic ends. "If the reason that you were growing was market dynamics instead of selfishness then you’ll do things like build in quality control and you’ll do things like pace the growth," says Ambler. "If it was really about the shore house and making more money, if it wasn’t for productive things, the company comes unglued. Uncontrolled growth you can usually trace back to greed."

For business owners who haven’t had their moment yet, Ambler has this advice: don’t stick a toe in both waters. Don’t start hiring expensive people or implementing quality control teams if you’re just trying to make your $50,000 to $100,000 a year. "Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not bringing in a million bucks," she says.

"Nobody’s going to change until there’s some dissatisfaction in their soul."

Breaking the Real Estate Barrier

One company that has been able to sustain the kind of

growth plugged by Aldonna Ambler in the last article is Pharmacopeia, the designer of a vast molecular library for pharmaceutical R&D. The five-year-old company went public in late 1995, and has grown from two to more than 200 employees. Lewis Shuster, the CFO, explains that growth is the company’s growth plan. "We have very major ambitions to continue growing throughout the company," he says. "We have a very strong technology and want to continue to


The problem is space. Headquartered at 101 College Road, Pharmacopeia faces the same problem faced by many other companies on the fast-growth track in central New Jersey: ridiculously low vacancy rates. Pharmacopeia has managed to overcome this obstacle by including a creative growth strategy in its business plan from the beginning. "The company’s strategy since we were founded was to get the office space and lab space to accommodate that growth," he adds.

Shuster and Will Mayhall, CEO of Princeton Financial Systems, another Princeton area company growing at hyperspeed, address real estate strategies at the New Jersey Technology Council on Wednesday, February 4, at 8:30 a.m. at the Woodbridge Sheraton. Cost: $30. Call 609-452-1010.

Lab space, it turns out, is about as scarce as Class A office space in the area. "There is a real shortage," says Shuster. "I’m not aware of any good inventory out there at all."

Pharmacopeia’s first option was to build a new lab, which has obvious disadvantages. "If you wanted to just take a piece of land from scratch and build the building you’re talking about an awful amount of lead time," says Shuster. "It was essential that we find existing buildings and lease them."

With the aid of Tom Giannone at the Julien J. Studley agency, pharmacopeia found other companies with lab space that were planning to leave the area.

Enter Enichem, the Italian developer of polymers and elastomers based at the Jersey Center Metroplex in Monmouth Junction. Enichem had hit hard times in New Jersey and began moving its operation to Houston, Texas a year ago. As Enichem began phasing out its New Jersey presence, Pharmacopeia began subleasing space and took over their entire lease when the firm moved out completely. "We had been talking to Enichem since our company was first formed," says Shuster. "Basically their misfortune was our fortune."

Pharmacopeia also found some lab space at Eastpark Boulevard in Cranbury that was designed for Morphogenesis, the developmental biology firm that researched cell differentiation drugs. This company suffered a misfortune when the empire of its principal funder, David Blech, collapsed, forcing the firm to close in 1996. "The back part of the building was built out for Morphogenesis; when that company went under we were able to step in and take it over," says Shuster.

By summertime, the firm will be consolidated to two buildings totaling 145,000 square feet. This will provide enough room — for the time being. Its quarters will suffice for a "couple more years," Shuster reports. "Then we’re back to looking for more space."

Serial Litigators?

In the calculating and deranged tradition of David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and now Theodore Kaczynski, comes a new mold of terrorist. No, he doesn’t kill, maim, or dismember, he bankrupts, warns Susan Edwards, the

Montgomery Commons-based psychologist.

Edwards is referring to what she calls "serial litigators" — experts in the art of suing to make a profit. "A serial litigator is a person who has a lifestyle of suing for profit and/or defrauding businesses for profit," she says.

While their victims are usually not left bleeding on a cold basement floor, Edwards stresses that a serial litigator is tantamount to a serial murderer in malice. "It’s a person who has a certain behavior again and again and again who harms," she says. "It is not the prosecution but the behavior. In other words, somebody might be a serial killer and kill 20 people, but only three of those murders might be litigated. However it’s the behavior of killing people that’s

the issue."

Edwards has written a book warning contractors about serial litigators, "Dangerous Clients: How to Protect Yourself," (Miller Freeman, $39.95). She is also becoming a national herald on this issue. Edwards speaks at the Rotary Club of Princeton on Tuesday, February 3, at noon at the Nassau Inn. Call 609-924-5518 for $15 reservations.

Edwards is considered an expert in the custom building industry. She serves on the board of Custom Builder magazine, and she was quoted last June in the Wall Street Journal in a story about mega-rich clients who supplement their huge incomes by habitually stiffing contractors.

Edwards identifies serial litigators along these lines: either they have initiated three or more legal similar legal complaints, or they made regular use of loopholes in the law or within an industry, or they acted to defraud or withhold money from a party in three or more cases. "For example a customer may owe $10,000 to three or more subcontractors," she says. "Whether those complaints went to trial, were settled out of court, or didn’t make filing stage, the individuals managed to make money either by avoiding payments

they owed to others or getting others to pay them regardless of issues of fact. Sometimes customer dissatisfaction masks consumer fraud."

Edwards has chiseled this brand of skullduggery down to a science, but, she cautions, so have serial litigators. The serial litigator’s fees are based on a simple formula: figure out what the victim’s attorney fees are going to be, then set your price below that. "I withhold $10,000 from three subcontractors, if it would cost each of the subcontractors $15,000 to go to court, I have made $30,000."

They also thrive on legal loopholes. If a law passed 15 years ago says all of the buildings need to have a particular modification, the serial litigator would make it a business to seek out older buildings that didn’t have those modifications. Once a few were found, the serial litigator would file a class action suit against the building owners, naming him or herself as a person willing to take the money for the damages. "Once they discover it they use it again and again and again," Edwards adds.

There are only three recourses against a serial litigator: pay up, stand up for principle and fight (and pay more), or don’t enter into a business arrangement with them in the first place.

This latter method is the most pain-free, Edwards reports, and it’s able to be accomplished in cyberspace. She refers her clients to Lexis Nexis, the fee-based online law service that has records of most court cases in the country. "Litigation is listed by county, so depending on the counties throughout the United States where the person has lived, that’s where the lawsuit trail would be identified," she says.

Serial litigation is so disastrous in the custom home building industry because subcontractors, who work on homes that could range from $350,000 to $11 million, often generate their entire revenues from one project. If they should get hoodwinked out of even a portion of the bill, their business could be ruined. "With this much money involved you literally are committing your whole businesses with one customer," says Edwards.

"There was a dynamic I realized. These men who were custom builders would say, `I was builder of the year and now my business is in bankruptcy and I’m bankrupt because of this one client.’ And I saw there were certain personality types who were high-risk individuals who tended to be involved with serial litigation behavior."

Edwards’ counseling service is rife with sob stories from defrauded contractors. One builder called Edwards, complaining that his customer,

for whom he had built a $2 million house that won an award, was withholding

$200,000. "I talked with the builder and his attorney and asked him to do a LEXIS search,’ says Edwards. "The person withholding the money had sued 10 corporations in eight years. In all of those cases the person ended up being awarded money. This builder ended up being the 11th lawsuit. These 10 lawsuits were over a period of eight years. This particular builder was in a quandary in how to handle this. Had he used my screening inventory he wouldn’t have taken the project."

Coming Soon: Super Wireless?

The purveyor of a possible wireless telecommunications standard speaks at the Princeton Chamber on Thursday, February 5, at 11:30 a.m. at the Forrestal on College Road. Call 609-520-1776. He is Shant Hovnanian, CEO of CellularVision, the New York City-based providers of the only local multipoint distribution system (LMDS) licensed by the FCC.

Local multipoint distribution is nicknamed "super wireless," and enables wireless delivery of information using "last mile" wireless transmission. It allows data, Internet services, multi-channel television, telephony and video to be transmitted in the 28 GHz frequency range, at 1,300 MHz of bandwidth, the same rate as fiber optic cable. Using LMDS, consumers can get high speed Internet service that’s 20 times faster than the traditional 28.8 modem, at prices considerably lower than ISDN service.

Currently, CellularVision has a license for the New York metropolitan area. It offers Internet access, television service, and Bloomberg News to its customers. It successfully tested telephone service and video conferencing.

Hovnanian, whose father and uncle started the family-owned real estate empire, was also president of the V.S. Hovnanian Group, a vertically integrated real estate development group. With a BS in economics from Penn, he started CellularVision in 1986; the company is now traded on NASDAQ (symbol CVUS).

Meet the Capitalists

The New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network holds its annual venture capital panel on Wednesday, February 4, at noon at the Forrestal. The cost is $35. Call 609-279-0010.

The panelists are Tom Balderston, of TDH Ventures,; Peter Ligeti, of Keystone Ventures; David Plimpton, a principal of the recent start-up venture firm, Plimpton Yang (U.S. 1, November 12, 1997); and Steve Hobman, of Progress Bank, a recent start-up that supplies bank financing to venture capital-backed entrepreneurial companies.

Learning Studio

A good percentage of those who work in Princeton live south of Princeton, and many are in Bucks County, so a night school close to your home, the Learning Studio in Langhorne, may be just right for you. It stresses low stress and is billed as the "Health Club for Your Head."

Try "Making a Living or Making a Dying," the intriguing title for Martin Smith. Smith suggests he can help you decide that your job is stressful and uninteresting, and in three sessions starting Thursday, February 5, at 7 p.m. he promises to give a step-by-step approach to finding meaningful work.

"Bonehead English for Upper & Middle Managers" (in the tradition of the "XYZ for Dummies" series is certainly more attention-getting than the usual ho-hum "Business English." Catherine DePino teaches the three sessions starting Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m. Cost: $69. DePino is a freelancer for such national publications as Catholic Digest and the Christian Science Monitor.

If you’re getting nervous about tax time and promising to do better at bookkeeping in 1998, take a three-hour $65 course in the basics of Quicken. It runs Thursdays, either February 12 or March 12, at 7 p.m., and it can be followed by a more advanced course in personal financial management on Thursday, January 29, at 7 p.m., or Friday, March 6, at 9 a.m.

Other courses are offered in Peachtree, Quick Books Pro, Access, Excel etc. Also available is an arts studio, dance and fitness studio, and cooking school, as well as courses in social and personal enrichment. Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Elaine Tait teaches one of the cooking courses.

Mary Marcoccia, known to U.S. 1 readers for her stories on job finding (November 6, 1996) and "Love on the Net" (January 15, 1997) teaches how to make $60,000 a year as a personal coach. Her two-session $50 course starts Wednesday, January 28, or Monday, March 9. Marcoccia reprises her love on the net success (she found her husband that way) with a two-session $49 workshop "Guerilla Dating," starting Tuesday, February 17, at 7 p.m. Where is this

place? Off 95 South, Exit 29A. Call 215-752-5657.

Women’s Night Out

Who said sports is a man’s medium? Val Ackerman, president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, ESPN broadcaster Robin Roberts, Donna Lopiano executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, Carol Blazejowski, vice president and general manager of New York Liberty, and Joetta Clark three-time

Olympic track athlete — all will participate in the "Powerful Women in Sports and Business Forum on Thursday, February 26, at 4:30 p.m. at the Meadowlands.

Ticket prices range from $25 to $60 and include a ticket to the Nets vs Sacramento game that evening. The reception following the forum at 6:15 p.m. is $20 extra and is limited to 750 people. The event benefits the Women’s Sports Foundation, established in 1974 by Billie Jean King. For tickets call 800-7NJ-NETS or 201-935-8888.

Corporate Angels

Bell Atlantic gave a grant to Westminster Choir

College of Rider University to install a modern communications infrastructure

suitable for a voice, video, and data network. Among the other philanthropic

focuses announced by Peter J. Ventimiglia, vice president of external affairs, are McCarter Theater, George Street Theater, and a special grant to Rutgers University Mega Center to create, in New Brunswick, "the most comprehensive dsitance learning center in the state," including a full-motion, fiber-optic network.

Rochelle Horst, manager of the Lawrenceville branch of Smith Barney, and Nick Ventura, vice president of the Simkus & Ventura Group at Smith Barney, presented a $10,000 check to the Union Industrial Home for Children. The money was raised by a Wellness Breakfast and a dinner honoring Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Princeton Internet Group donated its services to create the web stie for Eden Dreams’ black tie gala,, complete with links to the web sites of major sponsors, such as CoreStates Bank. This gala is particularly suited to web site

promotion because clues for the annual puzzle "Dream Search" can be distributed on it. The donation included design, development, and initial hosting.

Michael R. Bloomberg of Bloomberg LP has donated $5 million to the Institute for Advanced Study, to be used to help connect two buildings housing the School of Natural Sciences.

The Old Bay Restaurant gave $2,000 to the Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen. The money was the result of the New Brunswick restaurant and blues nightclub’s annual benefit — 100 percent of the door was contributed. The Old Bay raised $6,300 in 1997, all of it donated to charities.

Rock Brook received $50,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support construction of a new building for students, staff, and families. The organization provides programming for children from age 3 to age 9 in central New Jersey with learning and communication problems. The $50,000 grant will be added to the $300,000 already reasied. Based at 50 College Road, RWJF is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to health and health care, and in 25 years has made more than $2 billion in grants.

Volunteers Needed

Parents Anonymous is seeking volunteers to staff its 24-hour Parents Stressline, for parents who are stressed, isolated, and in need of a caring ear. The organization has a call diversion system, so volunteers can work from home. The six-week training program, begins Tuesday, February 10, or Thursday, February 18 (a condensed four-session program starts on Saturday, March 21). After completion, volunteers can give as little as four hours per week. Call 609-243-9779.

Money Spent

Peter C. Carey, communications director of the American Heart Association, says that 45 research projects totaling more than $1.1 million are being funded by the New Jersey chapter. Grants have been made to eight projects at Princeton University, 22 projects at UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and a dozen others at a handful of other institutions. "Close to 30,000 people in New Jersey die each year from heart disease and stroke," says Carey.

Tax Help

Rider University student volunteers will be stationed at Quakerbridge Mall to provide tax assistance to individuals who cannot afford professional help. In groups of four to six, the students will be at the mall between Monday, February 9, and Saturday, March 7. Th hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Student tax volunteers will be stationed in the main lobby of the Rider Student Center from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. For more information, call 609-896-5192.

The American Association of Retired Persons is seeking volunteers to help with its Tax-Aide program, started in 1968, that gives personal one-on-one assistance to those who need help filling out federal and state tax forms. Tax-Aide volunteers should be good with numbers as well as dependable and accurate, and are asked to commit at least four hours per week from February 3 through April 15. Call 609-655-4358.


Karen Linder

Helena Axelrod

Margaret Bisher

Corrections or additions?


Princeton’s laboratories aren’t devoid of politics, But

results speak more clearly than gender

This article by Phyllis M. Maguire was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on January 21, 1998. All rights reserved

In Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, the central character,

a Canadian artist named Elaine, spends her early childhood camping

with her father, her mother, and older brother, Stephen. With Stephen

as her one companion, she learns to excel at games with outcomes that

are verifiable: who can run faster or throw a ball farther. Moving

to Toronto and making friends with girls for the first time, she is

at a loss how to "win" at girls’ games. Finally she cracks

their code: "All I have to do is sit on the floor and cut frying

pans out of the Eaton’s Catalogue with embroidery scissors, and say

I’ve done it badly."

The women profiled in this year’s "Women In Business" issue

spent little time pretending to do anything badly. But as scientists,

their careers have been propelled by producing quantifiable results.

"That is not to say the laboratory is free from politics,"

warns Karen Linder at Bracco Research USA. "But scientific


are driven by objectives. The teams that reach goals are certainly

judged better than the ones that don’t." Each of these women —

Linder, Helena Axelrod of Transcell Technologies, Margaret Bisher

of NEC Research Institute, and Maya Gokhale of Sarnoff Corporation

— straddle several fields of science and technology, running


races as swiftly as any of their colleagues and swelling the numbers

of women in Princeton’s rich scientific community.

Top Of PageKaren Linder

There are odd moments when she toys with the notion

of moving into another area of business, like marketing. But


Karen Linder, research fellow and project team leader at Bracco’s

305 College Road laboratory, can’t get past the fact that research

is not only more fun, but potentially more powerful. "Research

is really a company’s pipeline," she says, after more than 20

years developing compounds used in nuclear medicine and magnetic


imaging. "In research, you influence business in a very direct

way." You also ride an accelerated roller coaster of technology

and competition.

"I don’t think I’ve had two weeks in my professional life that

were the same," says the New England native, "so flexibility

is an absolute must. Every new potential product or compound has its

own area of chemistry, biology, and medicine to be mastered, and new

techniques to be learned." While she now sees more resumes from

women for research, Linder claims the corporate research environment

has changed.

"There is much more of a matrix feel to it," she says.


are moving toward capping the number of permanent employees. They

contract work out or hire temporary staff, or they have employees

figure things out for themselves. The days when teams of experts were

hired are definitely over. Now you must become the expert


Linder’s own career has been one of sustained satisfaction. "There

is a very strong respect for skill and proficiency at Bracco,"

she says of her current employer. The company has "a flat


without much room to grow as far as formal hierarchy," and the

only level beyond her immediate boss’s is filled by Bracco’s


Michael Tweedle. "I’d like to have my boss’s job and he knows

it," Linder laughs, "but I’m very comfortable in the position

I’m in. I have all the responsibility I want and then some."

She credits an element of serendipity in her career, though passion

and excellence have clearly played a part. She grew up in Cambridge,

Massachusetts, with a keen interest in nature — and medicine,

"because there are many nurses in my family. But I didn’t want

to be a nurse. I prefer dealing with things rather than people."

One of those nurses was her mother, "a pretty powerful role model.

Working was definitely expected for the women in my family."


also thrived in the lush hothouse of education Cambridge had to offer,

attending the Peabody School where "we got to be guinea pigs for

all sorts of pilot science lab programs, neat stuff most students

wouldn’t see." Linder later received an excellent science


at Weston High School, and now credits her biology teacher, Susan

Meiry, as a mentor who offered "enthusiasm, encouragement, and

a nice approach to science."

Graduating from Northeastern University in 1976 with a bachelor’s

in biology, Linder expected to go into teaching herself. Instead she

went to work for New England Nuclear, developing radioactive compounds

that localize in a particular tissue or organ for diagnostic purposes,

working fulltime while earning a master’s from Northeastern in


chemistry in 1982.

It was at New England Nuclear that she first worked with the


metal technetium, the element used in most nuclear medicine agents.

That was when Linder found her calling in inorganic chemistry. "I

was doing organic chemistry at the time, very badly," she recalls.

"A project came in that nobody else was available to do and I

said I’d like to try. From then on, until I left the company, I could

do no wrong. I was working by the seat of my pants, making valuable

contributions, and the compounds were so pretty! The first time I

saw crystals of a technetium complex under the microscope, I was sold.

They were beautiful reddish orange rubies that were just lovely to

look at."

She took a leave of absence to pursue a Ph.D. at MIT. "I had had

no formal training in what I was doing, not even a course, so I knew

there was a lot to learn. Plus the company had been acquired by


and it was clear you wouldn’t get anyplace in DuPont without a


By the time Linder received her doctorate in 1986, DuPont had declared

a hiring freeze, and there were only a handful of places in the world

where she could pursue technetium chemistry. One was at E. R. Squibb

in Princeton, bringing her "kicking and screaming" to New


In the 11 years since she arrived, E. R. Squibb became the


Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute before the diagnostic


was spun off as Bracco Research USA Inc. Along the way, Linder had

been promoted from an entry-level research investigator to research

fellow. She is currently a project team leader in an interdisciplinary

research group charged with the discovery of new targeted imaging

agents for use in nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging


And MRI research is a relatively new area for her. The

technique was first attempted in the 1970s, and Linder saw her first

MRI image at a nuclear medicine conference in 1980. "It was a

magnetic resonance image of an orange, with all the seeds and


she says. "Within a very short time, MRI progressed from a


tool to a clinical technique that is very widely used, and the two

fields — MRI and nuclear medicine — are complementary.


resonance imaging gives very pretty anatomical images with sharp


Nuclear medicine has lousy resolution, but it gives beautiful


about biochemistry." Both procedures are essential diagnostic

tools, particularly in cardiology, neurology, oncology, and


Linder’s workday typically lasts from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with


stints of travel every year. Half her work is administrative, while

the rest is devoted to research "or interacting with the team

in some way. The research projects I take on now are significantly

less complicated than the ones I had earlier. As a manager, I don’t

have the time to focus the effort you need to solve the hard problems,

and I feel that as a loss. But I recognize it’s part of management

and I let it go. My favorite thing still is to pick apart chemical

reactions and figure out what makes them tick. The small,


work is what I like best — but I do the big picture very well

too, because that’s what they want me to do." She is an avid


and founded the Kingston Garden Club this past fall. Like the other

women profiled, Linder has been offered jobs around the country —

including positions in New England, but the once reluctant transferee

now won’t move. "My work environment and the stimulation of our

research are big reasons to stay. And the fact that I’ve got 1,500

bulbs, a bunch of trees, and a gorgeous garden has me rooted."

Never married, Linder has no regrets about not having children.


was never something I ever considered except in passing. My compounds

were my babies, and I think it would have been very hard, at least

at certain periods in my life, to make a heavy-duty career commitment

and care for a family." She is particularly proud of "unique

molecules, compounds that I’ve worked on, that have gone to clinical

trials or been turned into drugs," and her strategy for success

extends well beyond the realm of science.

"Always be open for growth and more opportunity. People above

you are always overworked and looking for someone to off-load on.

If you are there to do it, you end up with their undying gratitude.

Accept all the responsibility you can take."

Linder does see some differences in the leadership styles of men and

women. "I have had very few women role models to compare myself

to," she continues, "but most men seem to spend less time

seeking consensus or drawing people out than I know I do. My skills

as a facilitator and communicator feel like pretty feminine parts

of myself, and they have certainly been appreciated rather than


at. The process of gaining consensus stimulates creativity, and that’s

one of the things that makes a team run."

Top Of PageHelena Axelrod

Helena Axelrod knows when to seek consensus — and

when not. "I’ve seen so much individual variation that I have

a hard time saying there is any gender approach to how people deal

with people. Consensus-building is necessary, but sometimes the


issue is setting the right direction. Vision is important in this

business." As director of biological research for Transcell


a 35 member research firm at 8 Cedarbrook Drive at Exit 8A, Axelrod’s

vision is essential to her position and career.

Transcell was founded in 1991 by Princeton University researchers

Daniel Kahne and Suzanne Walker, who persuaded a private investor

to make their lab technology a commercial entity. "Carbohydrate

chemistry is the core of our technology," Axelrod explains.


company was founded around our ability to make new sugars and to link

them together rapidly in many combinations to build new families of

drugs." Transcell produces thousands of these new molecules at

a time, taking a number of building blocks and combining them in


ways simultaneously. "We then identity those molecules that act

to kill bacteria by a process called high throughput screening,’"

says Axelrod. "Using robots, we can quickly pick out the most

effective ones."

Another area of research is in enhanced drug delivery. A


molecule the company developed can be combined with drug compounds

and applied to medications now available only by injection in a


setting, making them more widely available and inexpensive as pills

or nose sprays. "One of the drugs we worked on is the antibiotic

gentamycin," Axelrod says. "It has a broad spectrum of


against many different kinds of bacteria. As a pill, it would be more

consumer-friendly and used against more diseases." Another


Axelrod cites is calcitonin, a peptide hormone — peptides being

a short portion of proteins. "Calcitonin is an agent for


bone mass. Peptides are organic substances and are normally not taken

orally since they get broken down too easily and not absorbed. By

combining them with the drug delivery molecules we’ve developed, we

promote their absorption, so enough calcitonin can get in the blood

to the bone to help it grow."

The unique chemistry Transcell developed has led to the synthesis

of a number of compounds for drug and DNA delivery — to be


by other companies. "We cannot take the technology to the next

phase, which is animal and human work," Axelrod says. "We’re

a research organization, not a development company. We get particular

products to a certain stage and then find partners to develop them

commercially." Helping find those business partners is going to

be Axelrod’s next career challenge, after 14 years of academic


and 11 years of pharmaceutical research and development.

She grew up in Brooklyn where her mother was an accountant and her

father was a manager in a grocery store. Axelrod "very


remembers being bitten by the science bug. "It happened in 10th

grade," she recalls. "I had a biology teacher who was the

first person who made science at all appealing. Before that I hated

science, and my great passion was to become an artist. But this


asked questions instead of presenting facts, and that was really


It was the first time I realized there were some very important,



She graduated from Brooklyn College in 1972 with a dual major in


and chemistry and entered the Ph.D. program at Princeton University’s

biology department, doing her doctorate on cancer-causing animal


Her first postdoctoral position was at New York’s Memorial


Cancer Institute. She went to the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia

for research in embryology and immunology, and accepted a position

at Interferon Sciences in New Brunswick. The move brought Axelrod

back to the Princeton area and signaled a shift from basic to applied


"I wasn’t feeling satisfied in the academic sphere," she says.

"One reason was my frustration getting grant money. The amount

of time you had to devote to writing grants instead of doing


work was enormous. I also wanted work that would lead more directly

to medical benefits. What I was doing would eventually get applied,

but I wanted something more immediate."

Her work at Interferon was research-based, "but as time went on,

we spent more effort supporting the FDA application of interferon

as a drug, characterizing its activity and understanding how it


More cancer research followed at Cytogen Corporation where Axelrod

was promoted internally, "from a bench scientist performing my

own lab work to overseeing other people’s work. I always felt my


were in management and I did want to move up." She moved to


in 1993, and while Axelrod is in charge of the Biological Research

Department and project teams, "I’ve become very interested in

the business side of the company. There aren’t that many therapeutic

areas we can tackle on our own, but we can certainly apply our


and unique compounds to different areas. My mission will be to


them and play matchmaker."

It has been a career — like the others here profiled — with

no part-time component or mommy track. Axelrod shares the logistical

challenges of raising a 12-year-old son with her husband, David, an

associate professor of microbiology and genetics at Rutgers


and the fact that they are both scientists brings mutual


"We can appreciate each other’s accomplishments and some of the

frustrations," she says. "It’s easier to support each other

because we know what our jobs entail." Axelrod finds the Princeton

area particularly attractive to two career science couples. "It’s

easier to attract couples because the prospect of both of them getting

jobs with a reasonable commute is fairly high. That is a serious


Her most important research contribution was the development of


to establish mouse embryonic cell lines that have aided in the study

of genetic diseases. "In terms of my career in the pharmaceutical

industry, I played a part in getting FDA approval for interferon and

putting two cancer products into clinical trials." At Transcell,

Axelrod is particularly proud of her role in investigating their drug

delivery agents and in discovering new antibiotics. And while her

own career has led from pure to applied research, she applauds the

recently proposed hikes in federal funding for medical research.

"People don’t realize that investing in research —


research institutes, medical schools — has very wide repercussions

for all aspects of drug development and medical care," she says.

"The medical community is very interrelated. When there are


in funding — and there have been over the last 10 years, with

research funds getting squeezed out of health care — it means

future advances are going to be few and far between."

Top Of PageMargaret Bisher

In almost 20 years spent with the National Institutes

of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and with NEC Research Institute Inc.

at 4 Independence Way in Princeton, Margaret Bisher has never strayed

from basic research. "I’ve been very fortunate in the jobs I’ve

had. It’s unusual to be able to do basic research without the constant

pressure of `how many millions of dollars can you make?’

"Not that we can just be mad scientists," she laughs. "We

do have annual reports and we must justify our existence. But basic

research" — as opposed to applied, which is geared to


a specific product or procedure — "is discovery by accident.

Even though there are demands, this is more of a think-tank


where we’re allowed to be more creative and given more freedom."

The NEC Research Institute was established in 1989 as the American

research arm of NEC, the Japanese computer giant. Institute teams

in computer science study computer architecture and intelligence,

image processing and perceptual organization. In physical science,

researchers probe bio- and condensed matter physics, optics and


electronics. Bisher is part of the Physical Sciences Research group,

working in condensed matter physics.

"I’m doing materials science, studying the structure of


she says. "While there are people here who work on theory, I’m

an experimentalist. My job is to take any interesting material and

examine its structure at the atomic level." The tool she uses

is an 10-foot tall electron microscope. "There is a filament at

the top to which a high voltage is applied," Bisher explains.

"Electrons come off the filament and travel down the column,


through a thin sample placed in the path of the electrons. That


an image onto a screen. The microscope works much like a slide project

— except we use electrons instead of light and thinned samples

instead of slides." Since it transmits electrons through the


the instrument is known as a transmission electron microscope or TEM,

seeing into the molecular structure of cells and the atomic structure

of materials.

"You sit at the bottom of the column, looking through


Bisher says of her TEM work. "The room is usually dark because

the microscope is taking pictures. It looks like Mission Control with

all sorts of lights and buttons and knobs. Some you move manually;

others are computer-controlled. We have four computers on the


and each does something a little different."

The samples Bisher studies are carbon nanotubes, tiny, molecular


rods. These rods are "stretched out" versions of the carbon-60

"buckyball" that looks like a soccer ball, but is 10 billion

times smaller. What is Bisher looking for by studying nanotubes?


really don’t know," she says, comfortable in the free zone of

fundamental research where the concept of failure is irrelevant.


could say nanotubes are the world’s thinnest wires. We know they are

carbon in their basic structure and formula, very strong and hard,

but we’re finding they have different properties when decorated with

different materials. We don’t really know how they might eventually

be applied, but the race is on to find out."

Bisher switched to physics after a dozen years of research in biology

— but she grew up being adaptable. Her father was an Air Force

pilot, and though he served six tours in Vietnam, he didn’t want his

family stationed overseas. They did live in Ohio and Texas, but mostly

hopped around California among various bases.

"By the time I went to college, I’d been in 13 different schools

— three in third grade alone," Bisher says. Her first work

with a microscope came in high school biology. By the time she was

in high school, her father had retired from the military and the


had moved to New Jersey where he became an American Airlines pilot

flying out of New York. Through early admissions, Bisher knew by her

senior year that she’d been accepted to Boston University, "and

the only two subjects required by the state of New Jersey were English

and P. E. My last year in high school, I signed up for classes like

psychology and sociology and drafting, neat things I never took


but in two weeks, I hated every one. I dropped them all and switched

over to advanced biology, Physics II, and calculus. Then I was


Bisher majored in microbiology at B. U. and recalls with relish a

lecture given by Isaac Asimov, "an odd character and very


man." But she proved to be an unconventional student. "I went

to school and got disillusioned. I thought, ‘Why am I spending all

this effort and where is it going to get me?’" She left school

after two and a half years, returning to New Jersey to work for CITGO

— "that’s when I learned a lot of my physical chemistry"

— while taking courses at Rutgers. When she finished her


in 1985 at the University of Maryland, she was attending school


while working full-time for the NIH under a cooperative learning


She stayed at NIH until 1991.

"I studied the structure of viruses, everything from herpes to

rabies to chicken pox and portions of the AIDS virus. My job was to

report on what each looked like and to define its structure."

Though her NIH supervisor encouraged her to get a Ph.D., Bisher


against it, and claims the decision hasn’t hampered her career. "I

have almost 20 years of experience, which will open more doors for

me than more school. And I don’t mind being an Indian; somebody else

can be the chief. I’m very well rewarded for my experience and I don’t

feel slighted in any way."

The NIH was a unique and fondly remembered scientific environment.

"We had 15,000 people on a 400-acre campus with our own phonebook

and zip code," she says. "I miss that closeness and size,

and that’s the reason I now travel a little bit more. I don’t get

the same kind of immediate feedback I did at NIH, and it’s important

to have." Bisher returned to New Jersey when her mother —

who lived in the area and had been a professional nanny — offered

to watch Bisher’s newborn son. Sending out 50 resumes during the 1991

recession, Bisher got one interview — with NEC.

Now in a group with one supervisor and a postdoctoral

member, she collaborates with several other NEC Research teams.


I’m a biologist working in materials, I offer a different


she says. "My boss used to tease me that a materials scientist

makes a sample with a hammer. A biologist prepares samples very


and I have tried to use some biological techniques in preparing my

samples at NEC. As a biologist in a computer science company, it is

sometimes difficult suggesting a point of view that others aren’t

familiar with, but that’s okay. It keeps me on my toes."

Incorporating biology into physics brought Bisher special recognition

in 1996. "I attended a microscopy meeting where I presented some

of my work in the form of a poster. All the posters were entered into

competition and mine won for `Best Biological Poster.’ I remember

overhearing grumbling from some biological science researchers about

`how could a computer science company win in biology?’"

Adaptability has stood her in good stead as a parent. Now divorced,

she lives with her son Philip next door to her mother on a 250-year

old farm set on four acres in Flemington. With her mother continuing

to care for Philip, who is now 7, after school, Bisher finds living

on a family compound and caring for the grounds on the weekends very


"I had my son at the Harmony School across the street from where

I work, and he’d ride in with me," she says. "We’d have that

hour commute together and an hour home. It made for a long day, but

he got used to it." Her son, Bisher says, "is sure I’m a


scientist," and is very proud of what she does.

Though the days when she — as the daughter of an airline pilot

— could hop on a plane to scuba-dive in Hawaii might be over,

the 42-year-old remains as adventurous as the working mother of a

grade-schooler can be. The fact that she is very outgoing often


the stereotypes of scientists she runs into. "We’re not all wonks

with pocket protectors," she says. "Sometimes I think people

are afraid of scientists because they don’t quite know what to think

of us. That’s partly because science is now so specialized, but it’s

hard when you explain what you do and you lose people after four


Or you say you’re a scientist and their one comment is how they hated

science in high school. It’s really difficult sometimes to explain

to people the world you’re in."

That she is a woman scientist makes no difference in how laypeople

react or how she is perceived by her colleagues. "In certain


fields, like the biological sciences, women don’t seem to be a


she says. "But physics and computer science are still dominated

by men — and I’ve let that work for me. I’ve been very aggressive

in proving myself to be as good as anyone else.

"The competition is there, but not because you’re a man or a


The scientific community is very fair, and as a group of people, we

treat each other as equals with a great deal of respect."

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Women in Science

This story is continued from

As the head of the Advanced Networks and Computing Group for the Sarnoff Corporation, Maya Gokhale (GO-klay) confirms the observation that there are fewer women in computer science and engineering. "Many times, at a technical meeting or conference, I’ll be the only women in a group of men. When I started out" — she is now 45 — "computer science was a relatively new field, and computers were seen as arcane. They were supposedly the domain of `hackers,’

engineers who were young, obsessed, and male. In reality, computer science

requires a logical mind and clear thinking — attributes men and women share."

Gokhale finds more women at computer science meetings now, and their company is welcome. "It does make you feel a little lonely," she says. "When you’re talking about technical subjects, you all have something in common, but when the men start talking sports or cars, that’s something I really don’t share." But gender differences have made no other impact in Gokhale’s career. "In my first job, I did technical field support, and when I had a question at one customer site, I had one man say, `Come sit on my lap, honey, and I’ll tell you all about it.’ That’s the only time that happened. Initially, people tend to underestimate me because I’m a woman and I’m small and I’m not white. But after we work together, it’s no longer a problem."

And after a few minutes of conversation with Gokhale, it is obvious she finds Sarnoff an environment in which to thrive. "You can start with an idea and follow it through to a research prototype. Then you can be part of the spin-off company that takes it into the marketplace and get shares when the product starts selling. Sarnoff spans that whole spectrum, both in the topics addressed and the range from research through commercial product."

She compares Sarnoff to Lucent Technologies, "though we are smaller than one of Lucent’s divisions. They have a very large product line in addition to basic research, while we spin off companies and let them develop products independently. We want to be able to devote ourselves to the next big idea — and we find that small companies tend to be more nimble. Start-ups can make their own rules and really move, without all the government accounting procedures a large R & D company must follow."

Founded in 1942 as RCA Laboratories — and a wholly-owned, for-profit subsidiary of SRI International since 1987 — the Sarnoff Corporation retains much of the maverick edge of founding father, David Sarnoff, extending to its employees, says Gokhale, "pretty much an open charter. There is no built-in bias, as other companies might have, that `this isn’t our product line’ or `not what we do, don’t work on it!’ There are no restrictions at all to new ideas."

Sarnoff now employs 850, with about 100 in the Information Technologies

division where Gokhale works. Other divisions include Electronics and Biomedical Systems, Integrated Circuit Technology, Solid State, and Ventures and Licensing. Each division is broken down into laboratories that are then organized into smaller groups. Gokhale works with the Communications and Computing Laboratory, heading up the five-member Advanced Network and Computing Group.

Sarnoff is a heady mix of research daring and commercial success, with a corporate culture, says Gokhale, that typifies "thinking outside the box." Within just a few years, the company has changed from contracts and consulting to aggressively pursuing licensing and spin-offs. That vision really turned the company around. While there is more biomedical research in Princeton than in electronics, I think Sarnoff really amplifies what’s going on." Driving much of the company’s innovation is the cross fertilization among diverse groups. "We have brainstorming sessions, pizza dinners in the evenings where we put together joint proposals. It’s very fertile ground for the exchange of ideas."

Gokhale oversees many different projects. "In the computing area, we now have a new field called adaptive computing, a revolutionary way to accelerate computation by using Field Programmable Gate Arrays or FPGAs. I’m working with a semiconductor company to develop a new chip which will contain both a conventional processor and an FPGA. I am now building a compiler that targets this new chip, and the technology will allow you to write a software program that the compiler can transform to a combination of hardware and software. That technology will allow a computer to work much faster."

Gokhale’s group has also built the world’s largest Pentium cluster, connected to 260 processors with "a couple of levels of very fast Ethernet. We’ve basically built a supercomputer out of commodity parts, multiprocessing technology that can be used by financial houses, biomedical companies, and the visualization world — all of which need many cycles and very fast communications." Her group has also developed a virtual network interface that "works as if it’s a thousand interfaces. A program can now talk directly to the network interface without the operating system getting in the way. The implication of virtual network architecture is, again, to increase an application’s effective speed."

Another possible implication is to increase Sarnoff’s revenues, which have been robust for several years. "That," Gokhale says, "is what we were counting on."

Born in Bombay, India, she came to the United States when she was two. Her father taught history at Brunswick College in Maine. "I didn’t know any English when I first arrived, and when we returned to India a few years later, I didn’t know any Marathi." Her family — "a very book-oriented family" — settled here permanently when she was 7, her father establishing an Asian Studies program at Wake Forest College in North Carolina. Her mother’s mother had been

a gynecologist and her own mother held a Ph.D. in education.

Interested in biology and the natural sciences, Gokhale enjoyed math and logic even more. She majored in mathematics at Wake Forest, where she received a bachelor’s in 1972 — after a single college programming course. "I was so scared of the computer that I had my boyfriend write the programs for me," she now laughs. "I finished college in just three years, so I was tired of school and wanted to find out what the real world was like." With high marks on a logic test administered by Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys) to new applicants

and a one-week training course, Gokhale was sent out into the field to install computers. "I started the year knowing nothing, and by year’s end, I could reconstruct a corrupted database over the phone. I really learned a lot on that job."

Drawn more to research and development than to technical support, Gokhale moved to eastern Pennsylvania to help Burroughs develop software. "I wanted to tackle more complicated problems and I decided I wasn’t sick of school anymore." She earned a master’s in 1977 in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania, working for Hewlett-Packard for three years before "I decided I wasn’t sick of school again." Her doctorate was also from Penn in computer

science for her work on the development of compilers for data-flow machines.

She taught at the University of Delaware for five years, with research funded by the National Science Foundation, before going to work for the Supercomputing Research Center in Maryland. She stayed at SRC six years, and when her boss left SRC for Sarnoff, she was recruited to start a new group within his lab. It was at SRC that Gokhale wrote a program she calls her proudest achievement, an FPGA application used during the Gulf War.

Gokhale is now involved not only in management but in technical development. "I manage five programs, so I’m responsible for all the financials and deliverables. I’m also the major investigator and technical lead for all of the adaptive computing work, and I contribute technically to the other projects as well." She has come, in other words, a very long way from the 20-year old who was intimidated by computers, and now stays on top of a staggering learning curve.

"You have to immerse yourself in it," she says. "You have to stay current in your own subject and at least be familiar with related ones to gauge how what you’re doing fits in. Many of the new trends are coming out of Silicon Valley, so you have to stay on the Web as well as pursue traditional ways of keeping up, multiplexing yourself because there is so much going on."

Working at Sarnoff, she says, fosters that flexibility. The company also permits flexible scheduling that has proved invaluable for her family. Her husband, Ron Minnich, also works at Sarnoff as a technology leader in computer engineering, and their two children, a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, sometimes get computer-literacy overload. "My husband and I discuss problems that come up on joint projects — to the point that our daughter at the dinner table says, `Stop that alien talk! I want to talk about something else!’" When her children were young, Gokhale would start work at 5:30 a.m. while her husband got them off to school and daycare. Her typical day now starts at home at 6 a.m., typing while her children have breakfast. After putting in a day at Sarnoff, she is back at home working on a laptop while her children do their homework.

"It is a non-stop and exhausting day, but the reward is that I’m there with my kids." The flexibility that has characterized her career is key to the parenting exchange she shares with her husband. "There’s no easy way to deal with it, and it has to be a partnership," she says. "When the mother stays at home, the father often works long hours and the children never see him. With our kids, they know they’re going to get one or the other, usually not both. But they’ve ended up being very close to both parents, and I think that is essential."

by Phyllis M. Maguire

These sidebars by Barbara Figge Fox were published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on January 21, 1998. All rights reserved

@HEAD 24 = Ruth Daly: Persistent Astrophysicist

Ruth A. Daly made international news earlier this month for her discoveries about measuring the universe. An assistant professor and theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University, Daly had postulated a cosmological model representing the expansion history of the universe; her model says the universe will not halt and recollapse on itself. Harvard/Smithsonian and Berkeley researchers, using a different method — the maximum strength of supernovae — have just come to the same measurement conclusions (New York Times, January 9).

"We can say, with 95 percent confidence, that the universe is open and will continue to expand forever," says Daly. "We are the only other group with a method — my method that I published in 1994." "The supernova people are using somebody else’s method. Our number has been out for two years. From my point of view they are confirming our number."

Women who want to be scientists need to find good mentors and be careful what advice they take, Daly says. Her own strategy is "to do lots of really interesting and important work and hope that someday it will account for something."

In college she had been shunted to the liberal arts. "I have always been interested in the stars," says Daly. "I was at the top of my class in math and science at Boston College, but when I went to the counseling center at the end of my sophomore year, I was advised to switch to the humanities. My advisor said I should really be in special education."

This was 1977 and the feminist movement was in full swing, so Daly can’t imagine why that advice was given — and doesn’t say why she took it. But by the time she discovered the suggested major "wasn’t a good use of my talents" she was too far off track to go back to science, and only later did she go back to get her advanced degrees in physics and astronomy.

Daly grew up in a family of nine in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where her father was a psychiatrist and her mother, a former Rockette, was nationally active in such arts groups as the Sweet Adelines. She left high school a year early and graduated from Boston College, Class of 1979, as an English and psychology major.

The psychology training wasn’t, after all, a total loss: "There is an interpersonal element to science," says Daly. "Many scientists are completely blind to understanding motivations and prejudices. Having read a lot of psychology helps me to understand the politics and interactions, what is motivating people, and why they have the perspective they have."

After working in Scotland, she returned to Boston University for master’s and doctor’s degrees in physics and astronomy. After postdoctoral work at the Institute of Astronomy in England, she came to Princeton in 1988, and joined the faculty in 1990. She has taught two graduate courses, and is currently teaching physics for engineers. Rather than do the actual observations, she is a theorist, working with pencil and paper and trying to look at what is known with a different perspective.

Daly married Russell Mina, a poet who is also in the pet business, and they have daughters, 2 and 1. At the time of this interview Daly was packing her daughters’ suitcases so they could stay with relatives while she and her husband went to a meeting in Europe.

Now, about that science of hers: Imagine all space constantly expanding, Daly explains. "If you are sitting at one point, the farther away something is, the higher the velocity at which it is moving." This velocity of recession is called the "red-shift." "The`distance’ depends on the global geometry of the universe," says Daly. "The precise relationship between red-shift and distance tells us the expansion history of the universe — and its fate."

"Now we have taken the data — our predictions and our observations — and folded them through our radio source model, matched it to our observations — and compared it with what is expected by other cosmological models. The match-up is stunning," says Daly. "It is concrete proof."

Perhaps because of her college advising experience, perhaps because of her psychology perspective, Daly questions whether women are receiving sufficient encouragement to pursue careers in astrophysics. In the theoretical arena (postulating theories rather than concentrating on observations) she says that one percent of women are at her level and overall women represent two percent of researchers nationally. She wonders whether these ratios might reflect the subjective component in evaluating theoretical work, as opposed to experimental work or more concrete observational work. "It’s not that women are not interested or motivated or smart or working hard," says Daly.

Mentoring, she believes, is extremely important: "If you work with someone who is supportive and will play the role of a mentor that could make a big difference." For her PhD thesis she worked with Harvard’s Nobel prize-winner Sheldon Glashow. "Shelley is a category unto himself. I don’t think he knew that I was a woman — he is purely cerebral. I loved interacting with him because

my gender was not an issue. We had wonderful scientific discussions."

She tries to make sure her own door is open. "That’s important. I mentor both men and women but I am particularly sensitive to the experiences that women have that men don’t have."

Daly stops short of saying that her work has been given less credence than if she were a man but notes that public relations is "a huge component" to science. "I have been working on other projects. They spend a lot of time making sure the press is aware of their projects. Our numbers are two to three years old but we haven’t been calling the reporters — we have been giving the results at scientific meetings. We have other results which I think are more important than


"Unfortunately there is a certain amount of promotion in science, more so than the public is usually led to believe, but other scientists usually recognize self promotion for what it is," agrees David T. Wilkinson, professor of physics at Princeton. "If you really want to impress your colleagues you’d better do good science rather than be out there promoting yourself."

Daly acknowledges it "would be fun" to win one of the major prizes, "but I am more interested in finding out what is happening in the universe, having the stimulation of figuring things out."

Says Daly: "The advice I would give to women coming along — don’t listen to people who dismiss your work as not interesting or important. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that what you are doing isn’t right up there with what everyone else is doing."

Woman and Science

Kathie Young met her first mentor at a breakfast at Marshall Fields in Chicago. A post doctoral student in Northwestern’s molecular biology department, she had responded to a survey instigated by the launch of new perfume that was tantalizingly named "Destiny." The marketing firm for the perfume recruited 200 professional women to be mentors and then processed applications for young women asking for guidance. Young "won" as her mentor a chemist who belonged to the Association for Women in Science.

Young then moved here to work for American Cyanamid, and she helped establish New Jersey’s first chapter of the Association for Women in Science. Though this chapter has no formal mentoring program, Young says it gives her a perspective to look at her situation in context. "We are so friendly in our group that people feel comfortable calling anyone. At this point we can mentor college or graduate students."

Young grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, near Cleveland, where her father was a technical salesman and her mother worked for the school board. She took a track scholarship to Penn State and was one of the few pre-vet majors with no intentions of being a vet. "I wanted to get a job in the zoo and work with species that were endangered to do captive reproduction and repopulate the wild." Discouraged by the restrictions on zoo research she switched her

interest to biology and earned her doctor’s degree in reproductive physiology

at the University of Florida. After her stint at Northwestern she moved to American Cyanamid and became a principal investigator. She has just moved from Cyanamid to work on Ridge Road for Wyeth Ayerst, a sister company also owned by American Home Products. She will be working on neuro-degeneration diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer’s.

Young was the founding president of the AWS, Rosie Wong of American Cyanamid was last year’s president, Deirdre LaMarche at FMC is this year’s president, and Marcia O’Connell, who teaches genetics and does research on Zebra fish at the College of New Jersey, is the president elect.

In addition to its meetings the group has garnered corporate sponsorship to award a $500 scholarship to a high school senior who plans to major in science. Association members are available to speak at high school and college career days. Local dues are $10 and national dues range from $25 to $70 and include a bimonthly publication plus the privilege to vote and hold office. At a free meeting on Wednesday, February 25, at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Elizabeth Antry will discuss how to present technical information to a non-technical audience,

"You’ve Got What It Takes." For information call Sandra Carson at American Cyanamid, 609-716-2000.

Gina Kolata: Cloning’s Consequences

It’s a Sunday morning in Princeton, and New York Times reporter Gina Kolata is at a church breakfast, tirelessly addressing the issues in her new book. In response to headlines about a Chicago physicist who is determined to start a human cloning clinic, President Clinton has just announced he will ban human cloning research. Kolata is incensed.

A reporter first, she has staked out no personal positions on the ethics of cloning. But she is, perhaps even without knowing it, an evangelist for a cause — the cause of getting Mary and Joe Q. Public to think seriously about cloning, to ponder its consequences, and to take a reasoned position, not have a knee-jerk response. "The discussion of cloning so far has been ridiculously simplistic," says Kolata at the Princeton United Methodist Church breakfast. "This is too important for the public to be as unsophisticated as they

typically are."

Kolata is doing a publicity tour for her new book, "Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead" (William Morrow, January 1998, $23). A resident of Princeton and a member of the Princeton Regional School Board, she graciously shows up for an 8 a.m. Sunday breakfast, yet she is also being featured on such eminent venues as Terry Gross’s Fresh Air show and the Charlie Rose television show. She will talk and sign her book at Barnes & Noble, Marketfair, on Tuesday, January 27, at 7 p.m.

Kolata provides answers to what people are thinking — here’s the amazing story, here’s what we are doing right now, and here’s what might be possible in the future. She explains how Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut took a frozen cell from the udder of a now-dead sheep and reversed its development cycle, taking it back to the one-cell state of a just-fertilized egg, and how from this he grew a baby lamb. "To biologists," Kolata writes, "it was like the breaking of the sound barrier, or, perhaps more appropriately, the splitting of the atom."

Kolata has taken us to a technological and ethical precipice before. She wrote "The Baby Doctors: Proving the Limits of Fetal Medicine" and co-authored, "Sex in America" (U.S. 1, November 9, 1994). Here she has broken ground on The Issue for this decade, maybe this century. She has written so comprehensively and clearly that her book could be the basic text on cloning for years to come.

She emphasizes that research on cloning can do more than clone a child. It could result in wonderful new drug factories. A Dolly-like cloned sheep or cow could be cloned with a gene that would produce a particular drug in the milk. Instead of paying millions of dollars for each teaspoon of the drug, the cow would produce pails of it. Or cloning could allow someone to have their own bone marrow cloned. It could allow the creation of a new organ — a heart or a kidney — with no danger of rejection.

In person, Kolata tells her stories as fluently as she writes them. "She loves knowledge. She loves learning things, and she loves to explain what she’s learned," says her editor, Toni Sciarra. "She loves to ask the questions everybody is thinking but not asking."

"Cloning may not be raising new moral questions," suggests Kolata at the breakfast. "It may be raising questions we are already disturbed by." Ethical considerations, she points out, surface at each and every turn in the discovery road — Who gets use of a dialysis machine? Who gets an artificial heart? And so on. But in 1972 the scandal over the 1932 Tuskegee study (infamous because it left poor black men untreated for syphilis even after the discovery of penicillin) was, Kolata says, an "ethical watershed."

The uproar inspired Daniel Callahan and Willard Gaylin to found an ethical think tank, the Hastings Center. Gaylin used the cloning issue to whomp up funding, and — 25 years before Dolly — his chilling New York Times Magazine article "The Frankenstein Myth Becomes a Reality — We Have the Awful Knowledge to Make Exact Copies of Human Beings" left the public aghast.

"It was this emergence of the ethics movement that generated the Greek chorus for the cloning debates," Kolata writes. The late Paul Ramsey, a Princeton University theologian, wrote in 1972 that cloning might be the "beginning of a journey down what he saw as a slippery slope," as Kolata puts it. Ramsey wanted us all to raise the ethical questions with a serious and not a "frivolous" conscience, not merely to find a rationalization for what is now possible to do, but to challenge what should not be done.

Yet scientists of the ’70s generally ignored the cloning issue because they didn’t really believe it was possible. They believed that a cell grown for one purpose could not revert to an earlier stage; that once a cell has reached its final form, it never alters; that a kidney cell remains a kidney cell for as long as the person is alive, and it never turns into a liver cell, even though its genes are the same. They could not imagine that one udder cell could develop into an embryo and then a lamb.

The other reason that Dolly surprised almost everybody: Dolly’s creator does not move in the "fashionable" scientific circles. Ivy League lab scientists who work with mice don’t pay much attention to scientists in the hinterlands who work with farm animals. And those who work with mice had been badly burnt, in 1984, by the searing, far-reaching exposure of a scientist who allegedly made false claims about his ability to clone mice. "Not only did scientific leaders turn their backs on the man who said he had cloned but they began to disdain the very pursuit of cloning itself," writes Kolata.

After that, "cloning left the high-profile world of molecular biology and retreated to the little known world of animal science," she writes, noting that eminent geneticists such as Princeton University’s Lee Silver (author of the also just-published "Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in the Brave New World," Avon, $25) don’t talk to the agricultural scientists or even come to the same meetings.

"The scientists working in barnyards and gathering eggs from ovaries that they collected at slaughterhouses were increasingly isolated from the science superstars, whose universe seemed to be the only one that mattered," Kolata writes. The farm animal scientists "were the only ones brave enough to take up the cloning problems. And they had been motivated more by the economic promise of cloning than by a thirst to understand the molecular mysteries of


Now that the issue of cloning has once more been released from Pandora’s box, Kolata emphasizes, the public needs to understand all the possibilities, not just the obvious ones. Acceptance of research on recombinant DNA had been very slow, and this delay hampered the research, says Kolata. "In the zeal to cut off cloning are we going to make it a crime to do research?"

In her talk, Kolata cites the case of a mother who desperately needed a kidney for her 15-year-old daughter and had another baby so she could donate one of the baby’s kidneys to her older sister. How different is that, ethically, from cloning a kidney, Kolata asks.

"Cloning is a metaphor and a mirror," Kolata writes. "It allows us to look at ourselves and our values and to decide what is important to us and why. It also reflects the place of science in our world. Do we see science as a threat or a promise? What would it do to us as a people to think that the rich could have replacement parts?"

But the "just suppose" possibilities fascinate her nonetheless. Even now, would-be parents can choose an egg donor and choose a sperm donor, have the fertilized egg implanted in a uterus, and have an "almost just-like-us" baby. But Kolata poses the question, "Suppose I can add a gene that is resistant to Alzheimer’s, how is that different from a vaccination against Alzheimer’s? Each of us will draw the line in different places."

"Cloning is in the future. Cloning is for the very few. Cloning is for the very rich. Most people will want to have children with their partners," Kolata promises the Methodists. She quotes Princeton Theological seminarian Nancy Duff: "Many people wonder if this is a miracle for which we can thank God, or an ominous new way to play God ourselves." Kolata gently deflects someone who tries to pin her down about what is "right" by quoting theologians who used the same chapter of Genesis to prove opposing views.

This is just the sort of discussion Kolata wrote her book to provoke. She finished it in an amazingly short time over the summer. Yet she has diligently annotated her sources with 11-pages of footnotes and a 16-page index (even Joyce Carol Oates gets mentioned). Yet she has also captured the drama of how the news broke, how Dolly’s birth took place, and how "the nation’s leading scientists squared off in virtual phalanxes of Who’s Who."

The very efficient Gina Bari Kolata talks like she writes — with candor and speed, barely stopping to take a breath. Speed is her trademark (she once had to take remedial classes because she talked so fast) and perhaps her lightning-quick reactions are what deflected her from doing science into writing about it.

Kolata grew up in Maryland, the daughter of a diamond setter and a mathematician. She majored in microbiology at the University of Maryland (Class of 1969), but in graduate school at MIT she was dissuaded from pursuing that as a career because she did not like the tedium of long days in labs. She tried studying math in graduate school but — again — realized she was better at explaining theories than at dreaming them up.

An entry-level job at Science magazine led to numerous freelance assignments and a co-authored book on high blood pressure. When the New York Times hired her as a science reporter, she and her mathematician husband and two children moved to Princeton in 1990. Dedicated to fitness, she runs and works out at Gold’s Gym. "I like to work. I really just like to be engaged. The most boring thing is when I have nothing to do," says Kolata.

"Events that alter our very notion of what it means to be human are few and scattered over the centuries," she observes. Gina Kolata works to ensure that when such millennial debates erupt, she’s there at the axis, focusing public debate.

Life in the Fast Lane: P.J. Dempsey Sells Morgan Mercedes


Contracts Awarded

Crosstown Moves

Leaving Town

Management Moves

Top Woman Emerges at Bristol-Myers Squibb


Corrections or additions?

Life in the Fast Lane: P.J. Dempsey Sells Morgan Mercedes

These articles by Barbara Fox and Peter J. Mladineo were published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 21, 1998. All rights reserved.

It requires boldness to start a business, and courage

is needed at various points along the expansion road, but the


that really calls for fortitude is when you sell a business. One of

Princeton’s most prominent entrepreneurs, P.J. Dempsey, has sold her

human resources firm, Morgan Mercedes. She’s happy with the result

but admits the process was a harrowing experience for which few


owners are likely to be prepared.

Though she teaches the course at Mercer County Community College for

women entrepreneurs, Dempsey says this did not prepare her for merger

negotiations. And she was hard pressed to find another woman who had

sold her business.

Dempsey now realizes that women need to understand how to position

themselves to put themselves in a position to merge, to sell.


this is the next step for women," says Dempsey. "I learned

a lot of things I would have changed, had I known. You only have one

chance and you’d better get it right."

Dempsey has been in the employment industry since 1976 and founded

Morgan Mercedes Human Resources Group in 1984. Her father was an


engineer in Michigan, and her mother sold real estate. With degrees

from Saginaw Valley State University and St. Louis University, Dempsey

spent three and a half years with the State of Missouri Division of

Family Services, worked for an employment agency in St. Louis, and

was eventually recruited by Roth Young in New York City as a national


When Dempsey and Margaret Hindmarsh started Morgan Mercedes,


desire for a yellow Mercedes and Dempsey’s for a Morgan sailboat


the firm its moniker. (Hindmarsh later married and moved to Florida).

In the 1990s Dempsey added temporary placement to what had been solely

a permanent placement business. Since then the company has diversified

again and become an offsite human resources department. In 1996 she

won the small business person award from the Mercer County Chamber.

On Tuesday, January 13, she sold the business to the

Placers, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Accustaff, based in


Florida. Alan Burkhard, owner of the Placers, has his headquarters

in Christiana, Delaware, and has 120 employees and 12 offices. "We

think it’s a nice merger," says Dempsey. As part of a larger firm

she can offer 401Ks and health care benefits that will help her


"We do have our niche market, but everyone is vying for the same


This opportunity turned out to be "win win," says Dempsey.

"I’ll still be here and my staff will be here and we’ll still

be Morgan Mercedes. We’ll be expanding in New Jersey, but I’ll

have the rewards of opening new offices without the risks." She

declines to discuss money aspects of the transaction but notes "I

will still have an interest in the company and am still very


in the bottom line."

The deal started at a convention in October: "I got off the plane

with a guy from the Placers who said his company was interested in

expanding into Princeton, and I said `I’m in Princeton.’ Then the

first day, in a crowd of 1,700 people, Alan happened to be sitting

right next to me."

Once discussions began, things got hectic. "One day the deal’s

on, one day the deal’s off, and in the meantime you have a business

to run." She had broken her hand, to add to the complications,

so when Burkhard would call on the telephone to impart confidential

information, she couldn’t write it down — nor could she put anyone

in her office on the phone, because she wasn’t supposed to leak


to her employees.

Whom did she call for advice? "I turned to my first ever client,

Bob Clancy, who has become a good friend and mentor of mine."

Clancy and Glenn Paul, co-founders of Clancy Paul, had sold their

firm to a national company in Omaha. "Bob said, `Get yourself

positioned for how you really feel and trust those instincts.’"

"My broker, Barbara Clarke at Merrill Lynch, gave me sound


Larry Oring of Oring Levinson Burness of Parkway Avenue was her


and Dan Murray and Dennis Casale were the merger and acquisition


from Jamieson Moore Peskin & Spicer of Alexander Park. Christa


her operations manager, was the only person in the company who knew

about it. "She kept a real perspective on it and kept me very


Gail Eagle (of Gail Eagle Associates Custom Publishing) was her


section: "She understood that in selling a business there is also

a sense of loss, that you don’t understand how much of your self image

is as a woman business owner." This change in self-image turned

out to be one of the most surprising and formidable obstacles to her

making the selling decision: "I never realized how much I


with being an entrepreneur," says Dempsey.

At the closing at Jamieson Moore’s office, she had one lawyer and

the Delaware firm brought three. The buyers’ lawyers had come to


office the previous day to update and spot check the "due


search. "Our lease, our books, our personnel files — we had

submitted 42 files of paper over six weeks," says Dempsey.

The two-hour closing went smoothly thanks to a "dress


staged the night before. "Then we came back to the office and

I sent each one of my employees, all of whom happen to be women, a

dozen roses." The week before she had let drop some hints.


tell you not to tell your staff, but I just couldn’t imagine doing

it cold," says Dempsey. "I was really glad that I let my


buy into the process."

After the closing comes the "cognitive dissonance" when you

wonder whether you’ve done the right thing. Dempsey is convinced she

has: "We had always prided ourselves on being different. We are

finding creative solutions to solving HR (human resource) problems.

Maybe it’s by screening resumes or maybe it’s taking onsite people

for a client company, or maybe it’s hiring all the people for a


so I couldn’t move into cookie cutter companies."

"The exciting thing is that I can continue to be as creative as

I want to be. Alan likes to think out of the box and so do I."

Morgan Mercedes Human Resources Group, 34


Road, Princeton Junction 08550. Pamela J. Dempsey, owner.


fax, 609-716-1706.

— Barbara Fox

Top Of PageExpansions

Atlanta Technologies & Systems Inc., 3371 Route

1, Lawrence Commons, Suite 218, Lawrenceville 08648. Nitin Shah, COO.

609-720-1111; fax, 609-720-1112. E-mail: Home


Atlanta Technologies, a subsidiary of East West Service, has moved

to its own space in Lawrence Commons. Atlanta was started in 1993

by Avinash Diwan as a computer consulting arm of East West, which

manufactures exit signs, electrical outlets, and surge protectors.

The head of the Lawrence Commons office is Nitin Shah, COO, who left

HexaWare Technologies (which recently moved from 13 Roszel Road to

5 Independence Way) three months ago. Shah has an undergraduate degree

and an MBA from Rider (Class of 1991).

Atlanta provides consultants to end-user clients that include Dow

Jones, Eli Lilly, Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Express, and Bank

of New York. He says the firm is currently providing contractors but

is considering taking on elaborate turnkey projects and doing offshore


Atlanta vacated 150 square feet at 3 Nami Lane in Mercerville and

now occupies 1,500 square feet. Shah welcomes the added space.


adding employees and more and more consultants."

Top Of PageContracts Awarded

Anthra Pharmaceuticals, 102 Carnegie Center, Suite

103, Princeton 08540. Michael Walker, president. 609-924-2680; fax,


Anthra Pharmaceuticals has filed its first new drug application for

a product intended for the treatment of superficial bladder cancer.

The product, AD 32, might be used for patients who might otherwise

have to have their bladders removed. Its first product was an enzyme

inhibitor that improves the efficacy of chemotherapy in the treatment

of advanced bladder cancer (U.S. 1, August 3, 1994).

Top Of PageCrosstown Moves

KDC Group Inc., 114 Main Street, Kingston


Building, Kingston 08543. K. David Cadieu, president. 609-252-9060;

fax, 609-252-1871.

David Cadieu has moved his pharmaceutical recruiting firm, KDC

Group, to Kingston. He previously worked for the Personnel Group in

Warren. Cadieu, 30, went to Susquehanna University (Class of 1990).

Chartwell Navigation Inc., 370 Wall Street,


08540. Pauline Carr, president. 609-494-2881; fax, 609-924-5906.

The shipping logistics business had moved to a home office, but is

now back at Research Park (U.S. 1, August 13, 1997).

Sports Track, 228 Alexander Street, Princeton


Francis Goodzeit, managing editor. 800-392-5238; fax, 609-921-1307.

Home page:

This online college sports news service was launched in March, 1995;

it furnishes sports stats in a product called the Sports Campus.


it closed an office at 350 Alexander Road and is operating virtually

now, says Frances Goodzeit, managing editor, the firm has expansion

plans that may include a joint venture. David Porter (a sportswriter

with the Times of Trenton) covers the news side.

Top Of PageLeaving Town

SoftNet Web Creations, 410 Wall Street, Princeton

08540. Peter Maracotta, president. 609-430-9310; fax, 609-430-9466.


The computer consulting firm that did website development closed its

office at 410 Wall Street. Its phone, fax, and toll-free numbers have

been disconnected.

Peak AnalytiX Inc., 114 West Franklin Avenue, Suite

K20.4, Pennington 08534-1486. John Mikrut, president. 609-737-8133;

fax, 609-737-1724. E-mail: Home page:

The phone and fax have been disconnected Peak AnalytiX was an analysis

services company, specializing in scanning electron microscopy,


probe microscopy, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and optical


It had a website, which appears to have

ceased construction.

Top Of PageManagement Moves

Opera Festival of New Jersey, 228 Alexander Street,

Princeton 08540. Deborah Sandler, general director. 609-279-1750;

fax, 609-279-1832.

After six years Deborah Sandler has resigned as general director of

the Opera Festival of New Jersey to be general director of Kentucky

Opera in Louisville. She will make that move in August, after this

summer’s season.

Top Of PageTop Woman Emerges at Bristol-Myers Squibb

In a seven-way shakeup Bristol-Myers Squibb moved around

its top executives and promoted Christine Poon to the highest post

ever filled by a woman. Poon will be president of Medical Devices,

a newly created position that has responsibility for both ConvaTec

(on Headquarters Park Drive in Skillman) and an Indiana-based



Five of the seven appointments pertain to Princeton’s part of the

B-MS business: Samuel A. Barker, Richard Lane, Peter R. Dolan, and

Donald J. Hayden Jr., and Poon. Spokesperson Anthony P. Carter says

the moves aim "to strengthen our core businesses in every


Poon is "certainly the first woman at that level," he says.

A native of Wyoming, Ohio, Poon majored in biology at Northwestern

and earned a master’s degree in biology/biochemistry at St. Louis

University and an MBA in finance from Boston University. She worked

for DuPont, first as a chemist, then in management positions including

manager of market planning in clinical systems. In 11 years at


Squibb (starting as manager of marketing research at Squibb


she has had 13 promotions, and her most recent jobs were with the

Pharmaceutical Group as senior vice president of the northern region

and president of Latin American and Canada. She will have offices

in New York, Princeton, and Skillman.

Barker, 55, has been president of U.S. Pharmaceutical Group but will

now be vice president of Franchise Management and Strategy of


Pharmaceutical Group. This is a new position, and he will work closely

with Kenneth E. Weg, president of Worldwide Medicines Group. Barker

went to Henderson State and has graduate degrees from the University

of Arkansas and Purdue.

Lane, 46, came to the firm in 1995 as president of the primary care

business of the U.S. Pharmaceutical Group. He will now succeed Barker

as president and report to Weg. Lane went to Temple and has a Wharton

MBA; his offices will be on Scudders Mill Road.

Dolan, 41, headed the nutritional and medical devices group in


and will now operate out of Princeton as president for Pharmaceutical

Group Europe. He has an MBA from Dartmouth.

As president, Intercontinental, Worldwide Medicines Group, Hayden

adds Canada and Latin America to his responsibilities; he had already

been in charge of Asia/Pacific, Latin America, Middle East, and


He went to Harvard and has an MBA from Indiana University.

The changes come a year after Peter Ringrose left Pfizer to replace

Leon Rosenberg as president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical

Research Institute; Ringrose was the third chief in seven years.

Top Of PageMilestone

Died: Carl C. Storey on January 14. He was a partner of


Pike-based Quinn and Storey, managers of condominium associations.

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Lamos and Lee

This rough magic I here abjure… I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.

So says Shakespeare’s Prospero, as he prepares to resign artistic directorship of his tiny island nation in "The Tempest." Mark Lamos, ending a 17-year tenure as artistic director of the Hartford Stage Company, has no such intentions. Lamos is widely credited as an individual who has exposed more people to Shakespeare than any other person working in American theater since Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival. And Lamos will need all the

"rough magic" he can muster as he enters his new life as an independent artist; his directorial services are booked nearly solid through the millennium.

Lamos is in Princeton to direct Shakespeare’s "Cymbeline" at McCarter Theater, with a production and cast he has brought from the Hartford Stage featuring Felicity Jones as Imogen. Opening night is Friday, January 23, for the play that runs through February 15. In an artistic touch of symmetry, "Cymbeline," which closed Lamos’s 17 years at Hartford in December, was also the first

Shakespeare play he directed there in 1980.

His reprise production won critical acclaim there, described as a fitting closing to a "luminous reign," and one that "displays his trademark gift for filling his classical productions with glorious sights and sounds." Lamos will return to Hartford briefly this spring at the request of playwright Edward Albee and lead actor Richard Thomas, to direct a revival of Albee’s "Tiny Alice." In 1989 Lamos led the Hartford Stage to a Tony award for Outstanding Regional Theater.

Lamos says that Hartford effectively made him a Shakespeare specialist; and that his time there gave him the valuable chance to revisit some plays more than once. "In Hartford, if I put together a season that didn’t include Shakespeare I would get letters because the audience was always hungry for more," says Lamos. "There was tremendous audience demand."

Shakespeare has not been widely presented at McCarter under artistic director Emily Mann, the only previous one being "Much Ado About Nothing" in 1992-’93. Over the theater’s long history, however, Shakespeare has been a staple. The most popular titles have been "Macbeth," with six productions beginning in 1931, and "Hamlet," also with six productions, including Nagle Jackson’s 1982 "Hamlet" that featured Harry Hamlin in the title role. This week’s opening

marks the McCarter debut of "Cymbeline."

"Cymbeline" presents a unique combination of fantasy and reality, tragedy and comedy, intimacy and spectacle that continues to challenge its players and directors. Lamos calls it "a fantasy, an experimental exercise in virtuosity."

"I wanted to revisit this play after 17 years for a number of reasons," says Lamos. "I thought it would give me a chance to see how and if I had matured in the 17 years between productions. It felt natural for me to touch the play’s affirmations and joys again as I completed a personal cycle of years as artistic director. And I was eager to reintroduce the play to a generation that I didn’t think had seen it." Probably written around 1610, "Cymbeline" comprises — with "The Tempest," "Pericles," and "The Winter’s Tale" — part of Shakespeare’s final quartet of plays.

"I’m surprised it isn’t produced more," says Lamos. "I think it’s every bit as fascinating and mysterious as the other final three. It has a greater narrative sweep than either `Tempest’ or `Winter’s Tale,’ and in an odd way it’s the most expressive of the four plays."

"I think Shakespeare was pretty much always an experimental writer," he continues, noting that "Cymbeline" presents a series of experiments in form and narrative flow. "It’s peopled by extremely simple characters, very easy to grasp, and the brilliance of it lies precisely in the way he takes these characters and utilizes their simplicity. It’s like Matisse’s late cut-outs — big, primary forms in bold color. As the artist aged, the more bold and simple he got."

Lamos says "Cymbeline" has the magical, charming quality of a fairy tale or a fable. "As such, it leads us into a sort of labyrinthine forest of wondrous and strange events and ultimately, and most importantly, to its sense of a happy ending being as important as the tragic catharsis of the earlier plays."

"If you look at the happy endings of the comedies, they’re almost always cast with some kind of shadow — the happiest of the comedies seem always to end with a bit of a shadow. Yet this one unites not only families but nations," says Lamos, who compares the sweep of "Cymbeline" to the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

First printed in the 1623 Folio, "Cymbeline" tells a complex and implausible tale of events in the court of the legendary British king Cymbeline. It is a tale fraught with unlikely trials, miraculous reunions, and sweet reconciliations. The final appearance of Jupiter — a scene that was suppressed from performances throughout the 18th and 19th centuries — leads the action to the heights of implausibility, to an extraordinary series of revelations which in turn lead to an impossibly happy ending.

The title character, Cymbeline, is King of Britain during the reign of Augustus Caesar in Rome. By a first marriage Cymbeline has a daughter, Imogen. He also had two sons who were stolen away at birth and are believed to be dead. The king has married a new queen who brings, from her own first marriage, her grown son, Cloten.

The loutish and vicious Cloten seeks Imogen’s affection. Yet Imogen, against her father’s wishes, has secretly married Posthumus, a commoner whom her father raised and educated in his court. For this marriage, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus to Rome. There he meets Iachimo who, hearing Posthumus praise Imogen for her fidelity and chastity, wagers that he can seduce her. All this time, the kingdom is being menaced by Rome’s armies, threatening to invade Britain because of Cymbeline’s refusal to pay tribute.

The convoluted plot includes one of Shakespeare’s most gory scenes in which the princess Imogen mistakes Cloten’s headless body for that of her beloved. Two well-meaning strangers have set Imogen, whom they believe dead, beside the headless corpse. Her waking speech is known as one of Shakespeare’s most challenging to the performer.

In another touch of symmetry that embellishes the current production, Lamos and artistic director Emily Mann have professional ties that go back more than 25 years. In the mid-’70s, Lamos taught Mann, then an actress, at the University of Minnesota. "Although I knew she wanted to be a director, she was a bewitching actress, very talented," he says. Mann then took on the directorial job at the second space of Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater when Lamos vacated

it for the Hartford Stage.

As an actor himself, Lamos returned to the Guthrie to play Dr. Rank in Mann’s production of "A Doll House." "I didn’t want the role," Lamos recalls. "I said `I hate Ibsen.’ Emily singlehandedly made me realize what a genius Ibsen was — so I have a lot to be thankful for." After this conversion, Lamos produced Ibsen’s "Hedda Gabler," "Peer Gynt," "Master Builder," and "Ghosts" at Hartford. "I was like a born-again Christian," he quips, adding that he invited Mann to Hartford twice to direct Ibsen’s "A Doll House."

This is Lamos’ first time directing at McCarter, although he did appear here as an actor during Michael Kahn’s years as artistic director in a production of "A Month in the County" with Tammy Grimes and Amanda Plummer. "It was Amanda Plummer’s debut," Lamos recalls, "But I think anybody who saw it would be dead by now."

Over the course of his career, Lamos has matched his interest in theater with that of music. An accomplished musician, he has been praised by actor Richard Thomas for the depth of this experience. "It’s not just because he knows his Shakespeare," says Thomas. "He loves and knows dance and movement and music as well as text, and those are always a part of his approach."

For almost a decade, Lamos has been active in directing opera, primarily opera by living composers and librettists. Lamos will direct three new operas by three new composers in 1999, 2000, and 2002, including the world premiere of "The Great Gatsby" by Princeton-bred composer John Harbison at the Metropolitan Opera.

"What I love about opera is that I get to use my musical skills," says Lamos. "I spent all my youth and college years studying the violin." He says opera and its notoriously long lead times are part of the reason his independent work is so tightly scheduled through the 2000. Lamos and Jerry Jones, his partner of almost 20 years, recently purchased a house in Litchfield County, Connecticut, for its promise of rural peace and quiet between the crush of future projects. Lamos says it was also the opportunities in opera that led to his decision to leave the Hartford Stage.

Lamos has chosen opera at a time when it is riding high in audience popularity. And unlike much classical music, opera is attracting young audiences. Is opera, then, the next big thing? "I don’t know why it is appealing so much to modern audiences, but it’s thrilling that it is," Lamos replies. "But I hope it’s not

a fad like dance that was intriguing people in the ’70s and ’80s. Dance had its boom, but then found its own audience again and stayed there."

Lamos thinks the addition of surtitles and television broadcasts have helped to demystify opera. "They’re great stories, the good ones," he says, "and now audiences can follow them. Knowing what they’re singing seems to help. The worst thing about opera is when different groups have made it a cult.

"Although it was elitist originally, at the court, opera is wonderful mass entertainment. In the 19th century Italian opera was made for the working people of Palermo," says Lamos. "And an opera house is an exciting place for an audience to be. There’s a give and take with the audience that you don’t often find in the theater. You really can cheer here the way you do at a baseball game."

And how does a theatrical director make the transition from directing legitimate theater" to "grand opera"? Grandly, it seems. "Given the budgetary constraints and the size of the cast, in opera you have to work very quickly with large numbers of people. You’re really the general of an army in an opera production. It’s as if you’re on your horse — with a sword in your hand."

Cymbeline, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, 609-683-8000. Opening night for Shakespeare’s romantic tale that runs through February 15. $31 & $35. Friday, January 23, 8 p.m.

Stage Trial of the Century?

For two decades playwright Leslie Lee has had his ear close to the pulse of American culture. Not surprisingly then, his latest play shares a site with America’s most riveting recent dramas, the criminal courtroom. While actual high-profile murder cases have arguably become one of the nation’s most popular forms of entertainment, Lee has created a fictional crime for a play that examines crucial contemporary issues of truth, race, and justice.

"Spirit North," which receives its world premiere at Crossroads Theater, is a courtroom drama that explores an incendiary case of a black youth on trial for the murder of a white youth. Opening night is Saturday, January 24. The production that continues to February 15.

In a providential coincidence of anniversaries, Lee’s association with Crossroads dates from the theater’s first season and from the beginning of his professional career. "The First Breeze of Summer," which Lee describes as the first notable play he wrote, was also the first play produced at Crossroads. Now in this, Crossroads’ 20th anniversary season, the theater presents the fifth of Lee’s plays about the black experience in America. And Crossroads is the place Lee is pleased to call his artistic home.

"Leslie Lee has been one of the most important voices in America’s black theater movement, and has been an essential ingredient in the making of this theater," says Crossroads co-founder and artistic director Ricardo Khan. "`Spirit North’ marks Lee’s first project with Crossroads since `Black Eagles’ in 1990; and the first time in our new space, a space he helped build."

After producing Lee’s "First Breeze of Summer" in 1978, Crossroads went on to produce "Hannah Davis" in 1987, "The Rabbit Foot" in 1989, and "Black Eagles" in 1990. "Black Eagles," the story of the Tuskegee airmen, toured extensively

for Crossroads to the Manhattan Theater Club and also to Ford’s Theater in Washington, where the play was seen by General Colin Powell and President Bush. This resulted in an invitation for Crossroads and for the original Tuskegee airmen to the White House.

Set in the context of an incendiary murder trial, "Spirit North" tells the story of a married couple, Paul and Leila, and their personal experience of race and the criminal justice system. "The play is designed to evoke as much controversy and conversation as possible. I want people to talk about it," says Lee. Within the drama, Paul and Leila find themselves on opposite sides of the controversy, yet both may be right.

Paul is a lawyer who has "landed" a high-profile criminal case, defending a black teenager, Malik Robinson, accused of murdering a white teenager. The black community rallies behind the accused Robinson, although Paul’s wife, Leila, thinks he might be guilty. Complicating the controversy and family dynamic is Paul’s grandfather, Ben, a retired vaudevillian who has both the greatest distance from the case and most clarity of vision. Yet his partial senility interferes with his ability to be heard.

"The grandfather in the play represents the past and the present in its most positive form," explains Lee. "My heroes are some of those old folks. The grandfather has wisdom despite the fact that he’s losing it. He says he’s going to take his spirit north, meaning to a place of enlightenment.

"Maybe it’s my own need to rectify my own sort of ignorance of the works of my own grandparents, and maybe it’s a tribute to them, but basically, for me, he represents our history and he also represents the fact that all of us in our community — no matter how old — Even in the midst of his own seeming senility and mental dysfunction, he represents stability."

Lee teaches at NYU, Westbury College, and at the New School. "Recently I took a survey and said, `If your father committed a crime and murdered your mother, your sister, or brother, or some decent person, could you turn him in?’ And nine out of ten said they could not. And those were blacks as well as whites. So `Spirit North’ really comes out of that. "It also comes out of what I feel is my need to talk about intellectual diversity among our people, and to present another way of thinking about any of us; that we are all subject to

responsibility to each other, to our society, and to our own people."

"There’s an old Yiddish proverb which says that in an argument both sides are right. And what I want to present in the play is that both Paul and Leila are right. Paul is a race man — and certainly we need race men — but Leila also has a position that is equally strong. So the idea that I want to introduce into this is that there are two opinions, and other opinions are equally important, and we must honor both opinions."

Born and raised in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Lee says his family was one of only about 20 black families in a community that he characterizes as "very racist." Effectively the family was evicted, along with several other black families, by a landlady who didn’t want blacks living on the street. Lee’s father relocated the family to West Conshohocken.

"We were poor, but we were determined," says Lee. "The thing I loved about my past is that this was a community of poor black folks from the south. I’m from the north, but I was brought up with southern traditions, and I treasure those traditions. They have formed the basis of who I am." Lee is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He received his master’s degree in theater at Villanova where he met and roomed with playwright David Rabe. After graduation, both won Rockefeller playwriting grants.

Having grown up poor, making the career path switch from medicine to the theater was not a simple one for Lee. "When I got out of college, something told me I didn’t want to go to medical school, although I had the opportunity. My father was giving me angry looks, and he had already advertised me as being his `son the doctor.’ So I became a medical technician and then a bacteriologist for the state of Pennsylvania." Gradually, he says, his "desire to write began to supersede my need to express myself through the microscope."

The play is directed by Harold Scott, whose productions of "Paul Robeson" with Avery Brooks and "The Mighty Gents" starring Morgan Freeman received wide critical acclaim on Broadway. At Crossroads he has directed "The Talented Tenth," "The Disappearance," "Coming of the Hurricane," and "The Meeting."

"Spirit North," which stars Victor Love, Ran Aranha, Joy DeMichelle Moore,

and Marc Walton, also features original music commissioned from veteran

African-American folk singer Odetta.

Spirit North, Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-249-5560. Opening for the world premiere of Leslie Lee’s work that runs to February 15. $22.50 to $32.50. Opening night $45 includes reception. Saturday, January 24, 8 p.m. To continue the dialogue, "Discussion Salons" moderated by

community leaders follow performances on Friday, January 30, at 8 p.m.; and Friday, February 6, at 8 p.m.