Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the
April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A rough-hewn cocky kid in his late teens — decked
out in worn out leather, a rock T-shirt and yellow paint spattered
over the tips of his boots — emerges out of nowhere. He snakes
along the edges of the stage with a lascivious smirk on his face,
looking at, over, and into the audience. Before saying a single word,
his message is clear. Anyone could be his next victim.
This is how Arthur Kopit’s "BecauseHeCan" begins, and it is
hard to imagine a play opening with more unsettling clarity. But it
is not a thriller in the "Wait Until Dark" or Alfred Hitchcock
sense, because it is built on subtle shifts of reality and ultimately
asks more questions than it answers. Although Kopit has intentionally
infused the play with psychological ambiguity, it is when that
extends too far that it falters.
McCarter Theater is hosting the third go-around for
which (under the trendy title "Y2K") enjoyed a successful
run as a part of the 1999 Humana Festival in Louisville and a not
so successful Off-Broadway run at the tail end of that same year.
Performances will continue at McCarter through April 15.
The story itself is simple enough, and in fact not a lot actually
happens. Joseph Elliott (David Birney) and his wife Joanne (Barbara
Sukowa) are a chic New York City professional couple who are startled
to discover that they are being investigated by two federal agents
(Lionel Mark Smith and Jordan Lage) for taking part in illegal and
immoral activities. But it becomes clear that they are the victims
of a malicious computer hacker when their bank accounts, stocks,
reputations, the documentation of their life histories — in short,
their very identities — are all stolen out from underneath them.
Much of the play’s forward motion turns on the narration of the crass
teen-age cyber-punk, Costa Astrakhan (Gene Farber), who periodically
struts about explaining what he is doing (liberally sprinkled with
hacker jargon) and why ("because he can"), as well as some
of the slimier aspects for his hi-tech "cat and mouse" game.
But it is not until later that one suspects that Astrakhan may be
lying (at least sometimes), despite repeatedly declaring his own
His version of events as they happened don’t always jive with the
Elliots’ version of events. But they contain just enough truth that
one is never quite sure.
The problem with "BecauseHeCan" is that, as in all traditional
thrillers, the audience needs to root for the victims in order for
the play to work. But here that is not the case. Joseph and Joanne
Elliott are so stilted and self-satisfied, with their pompously
one-liners and their smug irritation at being inconvenienced by the
low-brow feds, that one can’t help but look for a more worthy hero.
This is the fault of both the lackluster characterization as provided
by Kopit as well as the naval-gazing performances of the two actors.
David Birney’s portrayal of Joseph Elliott makes Jim
Backus’ portrayal of Thurston Howell III look positively
His affected approximation of New York City high society intonation,
complete with nasal whine, as well as his penchant for airily speaking
over the heads of whomever he’s talking to, become truly grating.
Barbara Sukowa seems equally out of place as Joanne Elliott, appearing
less as a sexually-charged woman of the world and more as if she
be down on the farm scrubbing dung out of the barn. She also
delivers her lines either to the floor or in such a feathery thin
voice that it is impossible to hear much of what she says.
Costa Astrakhan, as written by Kopit, with his slithering braggadocio
and his raw ability to suit action to word, becomes the play’s main
attraction by default. But Gene Farber goes beyond the words in the
script to infuse his Astrakhan with much of the menacing sexuality
of a youthful (though scrubbed-up) version of Keith Richards. It is
in fact Farber’s energy that provides the evening with only real
magic and it is a mark of his theatrical presence that he is the most
interesting character on stage even in scenes in which he is slumped
in the corner, watching the action.
Emily Mann’s direction adds more to the confusion of the play than
anything else. It is sometimes glossy like a music video (as when
Astrakhan gives the audience the evil-eye from the foot of the stage)
and other times oddly lifeless (such as the several times supposedly
sympathetic characters are clustered together at the middle of the
stage, looking like animals at a watering trough). It is as if the
ambiguity, initially so important to the idea behind the play, got
out of hand and infected nearly everyone in its path.
The set design by Robert Brill is a big part of the evening and serves
the production well. The clean, chrome colored walls seem smoothly
hi-tech and functional, looking much like the inside of a giant
oven. Quick changes between scenes are facilitated by furniture
out of the floor, like bread from a toaster. Also Mimi von
lighting is equally successful, subtly adding a splash of yellow to
a steel-colored tabletop or a harsh heatlamp-like effect to the entire
expanse of the stage, making it seem as wide and sparse as a desert.
There are enough interesting things about "BecauseHeCan" that
one can’t just write it off as a bad play. But thrillers thrive on
clarity, and it’s really a jumble of clutter, overpowered by its own
ambiguity, unable to make the simplest distinction between good guys
and bad guys. Watching it is a bit like biting into a piece of fruit
found buried in the back of the refrigerator. One bite may be pretty
good, but the next is likely to be sour.
— Jack Florek
609-258-2787. Arthur Kopit’s new drama, directed by Emily Mann. $29
to $43. 8 p.m. Through April 15.
female dancers with background in modern dance, creative dance, and or
Latin-American Dances. Auditions are on Sunday, April 1, at 4 p.m.
Call 609-895-2981 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for appointment.
spring productions. Seeking actors for speaking and non-speaking
parts, and backstage help. Audition appointments available Fridays and
Saturdays, April 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, and 28. Call 609-443-5598.
vocal piano accompanists with good sight reading skills and
exceptional piano abilities. Honorariums/fees paid for performances.
Call 732-536-2884 to arrange audition.
From Library Fines month. Return overdue books or other materials
without paying a fine. Call 609-392-7188.
flea market vendors for the annual spring flea market on Saturday,
April 28. $15 fee includes a table from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call Donna at
merchandise vendors, non profit organizations. or local performer
interested in taking part in the community=based festival
Communiversity on Saturday, April 28, from noon to 4 p.m. Call
annual "Sylvia Weiss Senior Citizen Award for Outstanding Service as a
Volunteer." The award is to recognize a senior citizen who has
exhibited outstanding service through volunteerism. Must be East
Windsor resident over 60. Call 609-443-4000, ext. 240.
with artists, teachers, and students on Wednesday, May 9, at Mercer
County Community College. Call 609-324-7383.
clothing, linens, housewares, silver, china, art, patio furniture,
furs, sports equipment, antiques, rugs, jewelry, and collectibles.
Working refrigerators are also needed to be used on the fields during
the event. Cancer care at the Medical Center at Princeton will benefit
from the 48th annual June Fete Auxiliary Benefit. to be held at the
Princeton University’s playing fields on Washington Road in West
Windsor, on Saturday, June 16. Call 609-497-4069.
40th Annual Philadelphia Antiques Show is on Tuesday, April 10, with
the bus leaving from the historical society on High Street at 8:45
a.m. $60 includes transportation, guided tour, box lunch, and catalog.
trip, "The Delaware River Sojourn," to be held Friday, June 15,
through Saturday, June 23. "2001-A River Odyssey" covers 70 miles
combining canoeing, camping, and educational programs. The trip begins
in Hankins, New York and ends on New Jersey’s Maurice River. Call
908-996-0230 or www.drbc.net.
"Scholar-in-Residence" on a two-week tour of Eastern Europe focusing
on Jewish heritage and culture of Prague, Krakow, Warsaw, Vilnius, and
Riga. Professional local tour guide will lead the group from the
Princeton area. Complete itineraries and enrollment forms are
available through Class A Travel, 425 Wall Street, Princeton or call
scientific collecting expedition to China to visit the famous fossil
sites at Sihetun. Hailu You of University of Pennsylvania and the
Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology is the guide on the trip
from Monday, July 23, through Friday, August 3. Call 609-394-5310.
cruise on the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Sea visiting Naples,
Florence, Pisa, Valletta, Barcelona, and Monte Carlo. Prices,
including airfare, begin at $2,499. The cruise begins Friday, August
3. Call Margie Cortez at 732-257-6662 or www.eastersealsnj.org.
opportunities at his district office in Princeton Junction. To apply,
visit www.house.gov/rholt and send completed application to Samantha
Maltzman, Office of Representative Rush Holt, 50 Washington Road,
Princeton Junction 08550. Call Samantha at 609-750-9365 or e-mail
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