Privacy,a play exploring the death of privacy, is inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance. Snowden even appears on stage (via video.) But, for all its alarming info, the show is more playful interactive lecture than cautionary drama: An audience member may even find herself on a date with Daniel Radcliffe.
On stage at the Public Theater, Radcliffe portrays The Writer, a stand-in for playwright James Graham, who talks to some two dozen experts to understand the myriad ways in which privacy has been destroyed, and what we have lost as a result: Privacy allows for intimacy, we’re told, and helps us to become who we are.
More production photos at NewYorkTheater.me
Only Snowden plays himself. Five other actors, including Rachel Dratch, portray the director of the FBI, Congressmen, journalists, professors, and tech entrepreneurs, such as Randi Zuckerberg, formerly of Facebook….and Christian Rudder, one of the founders of the dating site OKCupid. Rudder (portrayed by Raffi Barsoumian) asks The Writer some questions typically asked on the site, and then sifts through pictures of members of the audience (projected onto the stage backdrop) to find a match. Three names are called out and the young women are invited from the audience onto the stage to sit on three tables in a “restaurant.”
The Writer goes on a date with each one. Rather than asking them questions about themselves, he offers detailed information – and photographs – about them presumably culled from their Facebook pages and other online sources.
It is one of many such illustrations in the show, which was first produced at the Donmar Warehouse, where director/co-creator Josie Rourke serves as artistic director, although the U.S. version has been greatly altered.
From the very start, through a mock in-flight safety video, we are told to keep our smart phones on throughout the show (albeit in silent mode.) At regular intervals, the lights go up, and we participate in yet another example of how little privacy we actually have.
For example, one of the performers asks us to type into Google on our phone’s browser: “Is it wrong to…” and then see how Google automatically finishes the question. I was shocked to see my sentence finished with “shut off a Mac if it’s frozen?” – since I had recently done that very thing on my laptop, and had no memory of telling anybody or Googling anything about it. Other audience members (asked by the performers on stage) got “Is it wrong to eat meat?” or “Is it wrong to cheat?”, “Is it wrong to be gay?” or “Is it wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon?” (which I was relieved to learn later is the title of a series of Japanese novels.)
If this sounds more like a TED talk (at almost ten times the length) than conventional theater, the impression is reinforced by there being little plot to speak of (or worth speaking of. There is a bullying director and a therapist and a long-lost love, all of it fairly perfunctory.) Still, the creative team works hard to keep us engaged, not just with the interactivity, but with Duncan McLean’s artful and useful projection design, and a kind of trickster theatricality. Radcliffe himself at the curtain call urges us to keep these tricks secret.
I’ll try to respect his request, although, as Privacy drives home, few secrets seem possible anymore – thanks not just to the Surveillance State but to the Age of the Selfie. To paraphrase Pogo: We have met the intruder, and he is us.
Privacy is on stage at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street, New York, N.Y., 10003, in the East Village) through August 14, 2016. Tickets and details
Privacy . Created by James Graham & Josie Rourke, Written by James Graham, Directed by Josie Rourke . Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman,Rachel Dratch and Reg Rogers. Scenic Design by Lucy Osborne, Costume Design by Paul Tazewell, Lighting Design by Richard Howell, Sound Design by Lindsay Jones, Projection Design by Duncan McLean, original Music by Michael Bruce . Co-produced by Public Theater with the Donmar Warehouse . Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell.