I think it’s very cool that the name of the new play at the Public is Privacy.
As for my review, I’m afraid I can’t give you many specific details about James Graham’s new play, now in previews in New York, because I promised Daniel Radcliffe I wouldn’t. No boasting here of a personal relationship with the ex-Harry Potter – the entire audience promised Mr. Radcliffe at the curtain call that we wouldn’t give too much away.
So, where does that leave us? Let’s see . . . . . . . .
This was my first experience at New York’s famed Public Theater. Our show performed in the Newman, an exquisite space where Hamilton had its downtown premiere and continued to shape itself on its way to Broadway and Tony fame, and where A Chorus Line premiered forty years ago. Privacy performed to great success in London and makes its American debut here. Besides Radcliffe, the cast of six includes Rachel Dratch, one of the oddest (in a very good way) past members of the Saturday Night Live troupe. The show also stars lots of technology! And I would venture to include the audience of about 200 people as well, but more about that anon.
Radcliffe plays a British writer who makes his first visit to a therapist to try and work out some issues over a recent break-up. His ex has told the writer that he is very closed off as a person, and the poor guy thinks that maybe he wants to explore that issue.
And now, I have to head into vague territory. As the writer embarks, both psycho-analytically and physically, on a doubtful journey toward better self-understanding, he visits many places and has new experiences, and he meets a lot of people wherever he goes. I think that most of them are actually real people (portrayed by this ensemble of five), and what they have to say is spooky! In fact, many of them are actual spooks, such as James Comey, director of the FBI. The writer also meets and interacts with members of the audience. In fact, we were all instructed at the start of the performance to plug our phones into the theatre’s wi-fi, and as a result we play a substantial role in the proceedings, both as a group and as individuals.
And as we interact and/or watch the actors, we discover – and we do this through experience, not mere lecture – some pretty terrifying things about what plugging electronically into the world around us means to our privacy and security. These are things we have been warned about for a long time by people like Eric Snowden, but which most of us simply take for granted because it’s just too hard to take some lessons on how to manage your phone and computer. For instance, I learned today that my phone registers every location I visit, when I do so, and how many times I’ve gone there. This information is public, and it shapes the way the world intrudes on my life with particular ads and information. Since I never knew this, (there is, after all, no manual that comes with the iPhone), I obviously didn’t know I could turn this “service” off. And never mind what I learned about the Cloud! What a misnomer that name is . . .
Some courageous souls in the audience take a shot and reveal more personal information about themselves than they probably figured on! Their payment is that they get to interact with the charming Mr. Radcliffe and other members of the cast.
Is it a good play? Frankly, after three nights of seeing memorable narrative dramas, Privacy was much harder to even categorize as a play. There is a sort of narrative thread in terms of the writer’s life, and there is fun to be had watching certain improvisational moments determine the course of some parts. But mostly, we are bombarded with plenty of conversations and loads of technological special effects (very cool stuff) that offer lots of proof that nearly every action we take with our technology poses grave risks. I would venture to call this performance art as much as a play. Was I entertained? Yes. Will I be more careful in the future? I sure better be, but I still need more information. Maybe I will Google for some after I finish writing this . . .
That’s all I’m going to say about the show. It’s completely sold out for its New York run at this point, but I have a feeling we will see it pop up all over the country at theatres like Berkeley Rep in the future. Privacy continues a conversation we’ve all been half-listening to for years.
And since I have some space left, I want to tell you about my fun celebrity experience. My friend Alyssa and I sat down early and started to chat. A man and woman sat down on our left. A man and woman sat down in front of us. (The guy in front was the celebrity.) Alyssa and I were chatting about our friends – saying only nice things, I promise. At this point, the man on my left leaned over and said, “Excuse us, but are you from the Bay Area?” We said we were, and he mentioned that he knew one of the people we had mentioned. He and his friend were also Californians.
That got us all talking about who we were, what we did, and what we were doing in New York. I asked what part of California they were from, and they asked us. When I said “San Francisco,” the man in front of us turned around and asked, “Which of you is from San Francisco?”
That man turned out to be Darren Criss, another San Franciscan who formerly starred in Glee and will be returning to the City to reprise the title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch that he played on Broadway. He then asked me the question that endears one San Franciscan to another: “What high school did you go to?” (He went to S.I..) We had a charming brief conversation before the lights went down and the play began. No, I did not take a selfie with him or ask him embarrassing questions about acting. I wanted to keep it real.
Now that you’ve finished reading this, turn off your computer, go hug your cat and take your children for a walk. Don’t tell me where you’re going. (If you leave your phone on, I will track you down!)