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This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the

April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `BecauseHeCan’

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

BecauseHeCan, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place,

609-258-2787. Arthur Kopit’s new drama, directed by Emily Mann. $29

to $43. 8 p.m. Through April 15.

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Connections Dance Theater in Lawrence seeks male and

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: for appointment.

Omicron Theater Productions announces open auditions for

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.

Operaphile Society of New Jersey is holding auditions for

vocal piano accompanists with good sight reading skills and

exceptional piano abilities. Honorariums/fees paid for performances.

Call 732-536-2884 to arrange audition.

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Participate Please

Trenton Public Library announces that April is Freedom

From Library Fines month. Return overdue books or other materials

without paying a fine. Call 609-392-7188.

Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church Nursery School seeks

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


The Arts Council of Princeton seeks crafters, food or

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


Township of East Windsor is accepting nominations for the

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.

Mercer County Teen Arts Festival seeks volunteers to work

with artists, teachers, and students on Wednesday, May 9, at Mercer

County Community College. Call 609-324-7383.

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2001 Fete Odyssey welcomes donations of furniture,

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.

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Burlington County Historical Society bus trip to view the

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.

Call 609-386-4773.

Delaware River Basin Commission has announced their annual

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

Rabbi David Wolf Silverman will act as

"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


Friends of the New Jersey State Museum sponsor a

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.

Easter Seals New Jersey offers a seven-day Mediterranean

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

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Summer Programs and Opportunities

Representative Rush Holt announces summer internship

opportunities at his district office in Princeton Junction. To apply,

visit 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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