Since computer bugs didn’t actually cause global disaster in the year 2000, it’s no surprise Arthur Kopit renamed his play “Y2K,” a thriller about a couple whose identities are stolen by a blue-haired hacker. Last seen in Gotham in a 1999 production at the Lortel, the play is being remounted under its new title, “Because He Can.” And, yes, that’s the answer to the question, “Why, oh why, would this nasty punk hurt a perfectly harmless pair of wealthy white people?”
From its industrial-rock sound design to the “edgy” leather trench coat worn by Astrakhan (Karl Gregory) — the cyber stalker who was once a student of elite editor-professor Joseph (Ronald Guttman) — “Because He Can” is designed to demonize both computers and the young people who use them to ruin lives.
In his effort to scare the upper and middle classes, Kopit drinks from the same schlocky well as such technophobic pics as “Firewall” and “The Net.” Once again, we meet a clueless couple who are shocked (shocked!) that their money exists only in bank computers and so can disappear. Once again, we run down the checklist of modern horrors, as Joseph and wife Joanne (Ylfa Edelstein) get framed for owning child porn and having lurid group sex around the globe.
Of course the photos of these indiscretions are very convincing, even though they were doctored by Astrakhan. And, naturally, there are two anonymous government agents — you know, the ones in dark suits who start out friendly but then get menacing — who ask Joseph threatening questions about the life he hasn’t really lived.
The point is that reality has become unstable in our times. We’ve ceded so much power to machines that they define our identities more than we do. Successful people have become overly comfortable with … well, who doesn’t know how this story goes?
Kopit’s arguments already felt dated in 1999 — fear of computers has been inspiring artists since at least the first “Terminator.” And now that the topic of identity theft is so familiar that banks run jokey commercials about it, his play is even mustier. It is no longer interesting simply to point out that hackers can steal our lives. And it’s naive to suggest that the agents of identity theft are scary teens in ripped jeans. Experience has shown the crooks are often the very citizens Kopit tries to present as innocent victims of a world gone mad.
Director Nicholas Cotz’s staging of these cliches is so feverish it borders on camp. For instance, he lets Gregory play Astrakhan as a cackling Bond villain. Thesp repeatedly glares at the audience after mentioning how easy it is to crack computer codes. Or else he weaves silently between Edelstein and Guttman, face smug as he watches them without being seen.
And if that’s too subtle, set designer David Esler covers the walls with gray zeros and ones (the binary language of computers) and then paints a neon green spider web on top of them.
Ah, yes. The World Wide Web is an actual web that ensnares us all. Got it. In fact, we all get it. And have gotten it for years.