Rob Becker, the author and performer of the hit one-man show Defending the Caveman , will defend himself in court today. Or, at least, his lawyers will.
A court hearing of a 1997 law suit filed against Becker by producer Mitchell Maxwell began this morning in Manhattan Southern District Court. Judge Allen Schwartz presides over the case, titled Liberty v. Becker.
Defending the Caveman stands as the most successful, non musical, solo show in Broadway history. When it closed on June 21, 1997, it had played 671 performances. Its tour has since criss-crossed the nation.
Maxwell, however, contends that Caveman should have played in the Union Square Theatre, which Maxwell manages, instead of the Helen Hayes, the show's home for most of its Broadway run. Back in 1994, according to the suit, Becker and his producer Robin Tate met with plaintiffs Maxwell and Alan Schuster in Chicago in the summer of 1994. There, they worked out a contract to house Caveman in the Union Square. Further discussion brought a "binding agreement." The suit cites as proof an Oct. 3, 1994 story in Variety which announced that the show would "begin an open-ended run at the Union Square Theatre."
Problems arose in late 1994 when, said the plaintiffs, Becker became worried about waiting out the stay of the Union Square's then-tenant, the popular Vita and Virginia. Vita didn't close until Mar. 19, 1995; Becker's agent insisted that their contract with Maxwell promised the theatre would be available by Mar. 1. Maxwell denies that such a clause existed. The Caveman tour is also affected by the suit. The plaintiffs claim the contract with Becker gave Maxwell and Schuster the right to produce any tour of the solo show.
Maxwell and Schuster were not happy about losing a big hit to another theatre. They are asking for $700,000 -- damages covering every week the Union Square was unoccupied from the date Caveman opened on Broadway. Included in that figure are revenue from license fees, a cut of the show's net profit, telephone ticket order service fees and concession stand income.
Jury selection and opening statements are expected to take place Jan . 19. The trial is expected to take anywhere from two to three weeks.
Becker is represented by the firm of Kaufmann, Feiner, Yamin, Gildin & Robbins. Maxwell and Schuster's lawyer is Gary J. Greenberg. Lawyers for both sides were in court and unavailable for comment.
-- By Robert Simonson