Joan Marcus
Melissa Rose Bernardo
July 18, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Privacy

type
Stage
Current Status
In Season
run date
07/18/16
director
Josie Rourke
author
James Graham
genre
play, Drama

We gave it a B-

Good news for Instagram-obsessed audiences: It’s totally legal to snap a selfie at the Public Theater’s Privacy; an actor will even ask you to email it to the production. And for all of you who get antsy about stashing away your smartphones, here, keeping your phone on (silent!) is not only allowed, it’s also part of the show; at various points, you’ll need to access your phone, per the cast’s instructions. Naturally, sharing is encouraged. (Kudos to the girl who admitted that Google finished her Is it wrong to search with pick up girls in a dungeon.)

While the constant connectivity of Privacy — co-conceived by playwright James Graham and director Josie Rourke, artistic director at London’s Donmar Warehouse, where Privacy premiered in 2014 — might give Patti LuPone palpitations, it’s just the type of gimmick that’s likely to entice an internet-immersed age of perhaps reluctant playgoers. Also likely to attract that same group: the star, the utterly engaging Daniel Radcliffe, who post-Harry Potter career continues to amass a varied, and challenging, list of New York stage credits (including a superb turn as “cripple Billy” in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2014).

Radcliffe plays an introverted Brit named only The Writer, who, after an uncomfortable session on the couch with famed psychoanalyst Josh Cohen (Reg Rogers), decides to travel to New York to reinvent himself — and apparently to stalk his ex. Oh, and to test the social media waters, something he’s been resisting (his Twitter avatar is the standard-issue egg). “Why do people think because you’re not broadcasting every detail of your life that you’ve got something to hide?” he fumes. Regrettably, he didn’t Google that.

To gather material for this super-timely work, the creators interviewed a number of experts — many of whom aid The Writer on his journey of self-/cyber-discovery. Among the real-life characters who pop up in Privacy: MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who meets The Writer at JFK Airport; FBI director James Comey, who has coffee with The Writer while he’s trying to unlock an iPhone in a diner; OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, who gets involved in The Writer’s dating life. (They, and many others, are all played by Rogers, De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, and Rachel Dratch.)

Believability, or plot for that matter, is not Graham’s primary concern. What matters is getting the people on stage — e.g., University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything, who drops the bon mot “We are not Google’s customers; we are its products.” (That dungeon thing sounds a lot more interesting now, doesn’t it?) Or big data pioneer Clive Humby, who reveals the real purpose of rewards cards. Or Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill — he helped break the Edward Snowden story — who appears during a strangely sinister (and overlong) second-act tangent about the NSA whistleblower. For a play about connectivity, Privacy feels weirdly disjointed.

The facts, figures, and revelations behind Privacy are rather riveting — in a lecture-y/symposium kind of way. It feels tailor-made for an audience at South by Southwest. (Though be warned: If you don’t have a smartphone — some 30 percent of Americans still don’t, according to the latest Pew Research Center figures — you will feel like you’re missing out on the joke.) But as a play? You could probably remove Radcliffe’s character and get the same effect. Without the bang-up ticket sales, of course. B-

(Tickets: PublicTheater.org or 212-967-7555)

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