a theatre, film & pop culture review
Who: Josie Rourke, director & co-creator
Where: Public Theater co-production with the Donmar Warehouse
When: July 2 – August 14, 2016 (opened July 18)
Why Watch: Brit Josie Rourke has had an impressive career thus far for one so young (she’s 39). Currently, the artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse where she’s helmed the Oliver Award-winning revival of City of Angels, she’s also directed productions of Shakespeare at the RSC and on the West End (including that David Tennant-starring Much Ado), the obscure Scottish classic Men Should Weep about tenement life, and was previously the artistic director of the Bush Theatre for four years. Privacy, a co-production with the Donmar, appears to be her (as well as the play’s) New York premiere.
With co-creator James Graham, best known stateside for writing the book for Finding Neverland, Rourke sketches out the barest bones of a story: The Writer (Daniel Radcliffe) is an introverted Englishmen reeling from a recent breakup and unable to put pen to paper. When his therapist (Reg Rogers) suggests he explore his issues with opening up (and necessarily, privacy), The Writer flies to New York where his ex newly resides and where machinations of a plot swiftly come to a halt.
To confront his issues head on – and hopefully get some simultaneous artistic inspiration – The Writer interviews some of the country’s top journalists, politicians, and academics about technology’s impact on our privacy. The game cast of six (which includes Rachel Dratch, De’Adre Aziz, Michael Countryman, and Raffia Barsoumian) – excepting the very funny Radcliffe who remains charmingly bemused as The Writer throughout – seemingly transforms into dozens of characters each. They’re kept (semi)straight by projections (designed by Duncan McLean) of their real-life doppelgängers’ faces and titles, which light up on a giant wall of fingerprints behind them whenever they advise The Writer on how best to strike the balance between the need and fear of truly being alone in our digitally dependent society of oversharers.
Rourke and Graham include some amusing audience interactive elements to demonstrate how our iPhones track our movements, our Facebook and Instagram accounts can be culled for other uses, and even how Uber rates us. But when we’re not fiddling with our phones to create the perfect selfie (some of which are hilariously repurposed as dating profiles for The Writer to swipe through) or send photos of our favorite NYC locations to onstage researcher Harry Davies, the catalog of facts and figures quickly becomes tiresome. Rourke’s witty and swift staging and the cast’s great energy can’t overcome the fact that Privacy isn’t so much a play as a 2.5 hour Edward Snowden lecture (who, naturally, also makes an appearance) – and one that we’ve all heard before. Privacy wants to shock us by revealing that we don’t have any – but its most shocking aspect is its genuine belief that we don’t already know that.