Tell Us Something We Didn't Know

Craig Kaul's Astrakhan is no Iago

Anyone for numerology? Many cultures are keen on the study of numbers for their mystical powers. Visit certain immigrant neighborhoods in southern California, and you'll find plenty of addresses with the number eight in them but none with the number four. That's because eight is revered as a sign of prosperity, but four is to be avoided as bad luck. While this sort of thing seems rather iffy, it's as good an explanation as any why the usually superior Mosaic Theatre in Plantation has produced a dreadfully inert show, BecauseHeCan, which happens to be show number four in the company's fourth season. This two-hour, intermissionless plodder features some fine individual efforts, but it never coheres. Some shows are less than the sum of their parts.

The first head-scratcher is the script, which comes from Arthur Kopit, a prolific and important playwright. From his debut, Oh Dad Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, an absurdist comedy of menace, through Indians, Wings, and the book for the musical Nine, Kopit has tackled a wide range of ideas and dreamlike stylistics. Ideas certainly motivated BecauseHeCan, a mixed blessing. The story seems at once topical and dated. A bitter young man, Costa Astrakhan, is an obsessive techno-geek who recounts how he managed to destroy the lives of Joseph Elliot, a prosperous New York publisher, and his wife, Joanne, an art appraiser for Sotheby's. Astrakhan, who goes by the online moniker IseeU, intimates that he knows all, sees all, and controls all.

Astrakhan's tale is as jumpy as he is, skittering around in time. It begins with Joseph being questioned in an abandoned SoHo warehouse by two shadowy government agents. They won't reveal what they want, but it's clear Joseph is in trouble. Sent home by the agents, Joseph and Joanne wonder what the questioning was about. They down copious quantities of vodka and wine, as long-buried marital discord begins to surface. Not until the feds revisit Joseph at his office does he discover the reason for their interest in him. They have found child pornography on his computer. Returning home, Joseph reveals all to his wife. He also shows her photos of her engaged in public sex acts. The couple is stunned -- they are entirely innocent. How could this have happened and who did it?


Because He Can

Mosaic Theatre, 12200 W Broward Blvd, #3121, Plantation

Written by Arthur Kopit. Directed by Richard Jay Simon. With Ken Clement, Sandy Ives, Craig Kaul, Bob Rogerson, and Gregg Weiner. Through April 17. 954-57-STAGE or

If that were the setup for this script's first act, we might have a play here. As it is, though, that's the entire show. It takes two hours for these sophisticates to figure out that they have been hacked. They are amazed that someone could actually take funds from their bank accounts. They are hornswoggled by their likenesses being digitally manipulated within pornographic materials. Meanwhile Astrakhan gloats to the audience that he has cleverly managed to invade their privacy through the Internet. All of this might have made for a startling drama when it was first published in 2000. But by now, hacking is old hat and all the techno references feel passé and obvious. There's very little else of substance in the play. The domestic problems of Joseph and Joanne are drearily familiar. These well-paid professionals are liquor soaked, foul mouthed, and emotionally brutal with each other. But their scenes lack wit or depth -- this is Albee for Dummies.

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The comparison is hard to avoid, especially with Bob Rogerson in jeans and tweed jacket as Joseph, a character perilously similar to his booze-soaked architect in Albee's The Goat, GableStage's success of last season. As with that show, Rogerson finds moments of emotional clarity. When Joseph recalls his first wife, dead of cancer, Rogerson feels the painful bite of sorrow and loss. His hot-blooded interplay with the engaging Sandy Ives as Joanne -- showing by turns anger, desire, and tenderness -- is nicely staged by director Richard Jay Simon. But the text doesn't give the actors much to work with, making a half-hearted try at critiquing modern technology as a dangerous blurring of reality and fantasy (some of what Astrakhan uncovers about his victims has some basis in truth, mixed in with his own Freudian fabrications). All of this suggests points about the power of storytelling and memory. But these ideas never go anywhere.

As Astrakhan, Craig Kaul brings bitterness and menace, but he's as obvious as his T-shirt (it reads "nemesis"). Kaul and director Simon could have learned a thing or two from Shakespeare -- the best villains are funny and charismatic. Kaul plays Astrakhan as grim and unstable from start to finish, and that's a long time indeed. The production is backed by Meredith Lasher's effective costuming; Travis Neff's wild lighting, featuring expressionistic computer design projections; and Ian T. Almeida's complicated, claustrophobic turntable set. While there's little mystery in this (alleged) techno-thriller, there is one lingering puzzler here -- why the Mosaic opted for this particular script.

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