WHEN | WHERE Through Aug. 14, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.
INFO $100; 212-967-7555; publictheater.org
BOTTOM LINE Daniel Radcliffe in a witty, disturbing and eye-opening look at the digital revolution.
It’s nothing personal, but there are things I’m not supposed to tell you about “Privacy.” You see, author James Graham and co-creator/director Josie Rourke have asked audiences to keep the secrets in their witty, anxiety-inducing, up-to-the-minute eye-opener about the disappearance of privacy in our digital world.
I can tell you that Daniel Radcliffe is a neurotic charmer as the English writer who comes to New York after his ex leaves him, breaking his heart and complaining that he didn’t “open up enough.”
I can tell you — at least, I think I can because it’s right here in the good-humored program — that chunks of the actor biographies and the title of the play have been redacted with black marker as a joke. You probably have already heard that theatergoers are actually requested to turn on, not off, their cellphones. And that Edward Snowden, whose decision to release classified surveillance documents from the National Security Agency drove him into exile, appears briefly but significantly on video.
What you also should know is that the riveting unconventional comedy — part metadata high-tech primer, part futuristic horror show about the present, part audience participation event with the spirit of a hip magic show — made me more paranoid than I already am about the intimate reach of the digital revolution. I confess. On the way home, I disconnected a few functions on my phone.
Not that such a feeble gesture will mean much in a world where, as the writer’s psychotherapist puts it, we go “hyperlinking through life.” Five crazy-versatile actors play multiple real-life academics, social scientists, journalists, advertising hotshots and James Clapper, director of the National Intelligence. They all show up to haunt and to advise our writer on his journey toward some “balance between the need and the phobia about being alone.” Oh, his mother (Rachel Dratch) hangs out there, too.
Graham and Rourke opened a different version of the play in 2014 at the Donmar Warehouse where she is artistic director. Each performance is said to be different, though all are set against a big wall of fingerprints that, when appropriate, light up to project photos of each expert portrayed.
Also, keep an eye on the silent fellow in a far corner of the stage. He is Harry Davies, blandly credited as “onstage digital researcher.” His bio says he earlier worked on the investigations desk at The Guardian newspaper when the Snowden revelations were published.
Ultimately, the play’s end feels inconclusive. But given the seismic ongoing transformation of our idea of privacy, a tidy ending would have seemed false.