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The title is trendy and the right stuff for a thriller. The implications are intriguing -- an upscale Manhattan couple having their privacy and bank books invaded by a creepy computer stalker. Unfortunately Mr. Kopit who gave us one of the funniest ever play titles, Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's HungYou in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, has now penned a thriller that fails to thrill. It brings to mind John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation and Craig Lucas's Dying Gaul but has none of the complexity and depth of either.

The victims of this cyber mystery are Joseph Elliot (James Naughton) and his alliteratively named wife Joanne (Patricia Kalember). He works at Random House where his editing specialty is art books. She's involved with the arts via as an appraiser at Sotheby's. An art book by her and edited by him convincingly accounts for their meeting, falling in love and setting up housekeeping in an ultra modern Park Avenue apartment with an over sized Hanz Kline painting (actually, a scrim). The place is neat as the perennial pin though the only thing ever brought out of the kitchen is a bottle of the liquor they increasingly need to deal with their hacker nightmare.

Joseph and Joanne are a nice enough couple, deserving of their second chance at happiness -- He nursed his first wife through a long and painful terminal illness, Joanne too was previously married. Despite Mr. Kopit's earnest surfing of the Internet to become conversant hacker jargon, the scenario in which the Elliots become entangled is so silly and unengaging that we feel sorry for the actors forced to express their mounting horror at what is happening to them. Mr. Naughton does his cool and collected best, Ms. Kalember contributes good looks but little else to make a bad situation better. As for Costa Astrakhan (Erik Jensen), the evil presence lurking around the edges of their lives, Kopit has made him a caricature cybervillain who's more funny than scary. Just listen to some of the dialogue he spouts: "I am everywhere. On the outskirts of your mind, in the ether, in the darkness". Under Bob Balaban's direction the lurking presence of Astrakhan is staged with appropriate eeriness and cyber sturm and drang sound effects by Darron L. West.

As Joseph and Joanne discuss their increasingly horrible and less believable situation (do people really talk like this to each other and throw up when they see a shocking picture?) the suspense you experience is whether if Mr. Kopit's research has provided them with a way out of this mess. Presumably the resolution that never comes is intended to leave you pondering the issue of our eroding privacy during the fast approaching millennium. In point of fact, you're simply left feeling you've had an unsatisfying meal that didn't even offer a dessert. Since the show runs a brief intermissionless hour and fifteen minutes, you'll at least have time to enjoy a real dessert at one of the many cafes between 7th and 6th Avenues on Bleeker Street.

by Arthur Kopit
Directed by Bob Balaban
With: James Naughton, Patricia Kalember, Erik Jensen, Armand Schultz, David Brown Jr.
Set Design: Loy Arcenas,
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Costume Design: Tom Broecker Sound Design: Darron L. West
Running time: 75 minutes without intermission
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St betw. Hudson/7th Av.) 239-6200
Performances from 11/09/99 ; opening 12/07/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 12/09/99 performance

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