HACK ATTACK : Double, Double, Interface and Trouble . . .

Olde England met cyberpunk recently when a group of computer jocks staged a postmodern version of "Macbeth" on PCs worldwide.

Titled "PCbeth," the live production premiered April 23--Shakespeare's 430th birthday. It featured a cast of 17 players from as far away as South Africa and Israel who typed in their lines on the Internet Relay Chat channel, which allows users to "converse" in real-time. Reduced to approximately 150 lines of dialogue, the play was more Billy Idol than Billy Shakespeare. A sample exchange: Lady Macbeth (Lady M): "Did you do it? Idiot! You were supposed to leave the daggers on the guards. Give them to me, and for God's sake go clean up." Macbeth (PCbeth): "I'll never get to sleep after this. Where's the Prozac?"

San Diego producer Stuart Harris, an actor and computer expert, thinks PC Shakespeare is a good way to introduce computer nerds to the craft of drama. "The medium has limitless potential, but it's being underused," says Harris. "We'd like to commission original scripts written especially for this medium."

The audience was small, less than 100 people, but the reviews were encouraging. "It was very funny," says Gauri Desai, a Massachusetts psychiatric nursing student. "It was an innovative way of using the IRC. While they did have some problems due to lag and stuff, I thought the script was hysterical. Quite bril."

Harris introduced the idea of cyber-Shakespeare in December with "Hamnet," an 80-line version of "Hamlet." But that production was interrupted by a thunderstorm that cut the producers' on-line access. "Hamnet" was repeated in February with Ian Taylor of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the title role. The next production, scheduled for this fall, is a new take on an old American classic. Quips Harris, "We're calling it 'An IRC Channel Named Desire.' We think Tennessee Williams is perfect for this."

Well, we've always relied on the kindness of programmers.

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