The Time George from 'Seinfeld' Tried to Murder Columbo Live on Stage

In 1999, George Costanza and Lieutenant Columbo starred in a play that seemed to be about Y2K
The Time George from 'Seinfeld' Tried to Murder Columbo Live on Stage

There’s nothing in the world that screams “1999” more than George Costanza and Lieutenant Columbo starring in a stage play that seemed to be a thinly-veiled commentary on the Y2K scare. 

During its 1999-2000 season, The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles ran a two-man play called Defiled, written by Lee Kalcheim. The story revolved around a nerdy, neurotic librarian who rigs a bomb that will destroy his beloved workplace if they refuse to roll back an effort to replace their analogue card-based organization scheme with a digitized catalog system. A calm, affable police negotiator plays the librarian’s only scene partner as he tries to talk him out of his explosive threats at gunpoint.

Jason Alexander and Peter Falk were the two performers in Defiled – can you guess who played which part?

Not much remains of the production that occurred just a year after the conclusion of Seinfeld and almost a decade past Falk’s last full season on Columbo. However, it appears that the play was a commentary on the dawn of the digital age and the fears of technophobes who foresaw a computer-induced apocalypse once the millennium rolled over to 2.

Variety described Alexander’s explosive librarian as “Not your typical terrorist (unlike Ted Kaczynski, he wants to avoid harming people); he’s a bookish nerd who’s taken all he can take of so-called progress, which isn’t progress at all.” Falk’s police negotiator was a laid back, unconcerned cop who was uninterested in Alexander’s crusade to stop the computer takeover of his beloved library – said Variety’s Steven Oxman, “(Falk) really doesn’t care that much about whether the cards stay or go – he just wants to go home, eat dinner, work on a fishing fly and watch TV.”

The setup of an anxious nerd taking a dramatically principled stand on a minor issue feels very familiar to fans of Alexander’s “other work” – as Oxman pointed out, neither actor was exactly playing against type. Oxman was unamused by the play, which he found to be “an overblown sketch” that lacked the substance to be taken seriously, much like the librarian’s campaign against computers.

Still, those who saw the short run of Defiled witnessed an interesting footnote in entertainment history. Costanza and Columbo speculating about the future of humanity’s relationship to technology while Costanza nervously juggles a handgun and a detonator is a scene that should have been preserved – digitally.

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