Theatre Review: “Privacy,” Starring Daniel Radcliffe
Very little information is shared with theatergoers about Privacy before you enter the theater. We know it’s got something to do with technology and our relationship with it. We know we’ll be encouraged to leave our phones on during the performance. We know the show has a talented cast, including Rachel Dratch and Daniel Radcliffe. Most of the audience enters the Public Theater’s Newman Theater knowing nothing beyond these few facts. It was enough to get us to buy tickets, but does it guarantee an enjoyable night?
I’m happy to report that it does! And while the secrecy is all for good reason – this performance really is like no other play I’ve seen before – I can assure you that if you managed to procure a ticket, you’re in for two-and-a-half hours of compelling and thought-provoking entertainment. Radcliffe plays an unnamed writer struggling with questions of identity, openness, and of course, privacy, in an age where most of us have strong online and social media presences. His fellow cast members (including not only Rachel Dratch but also De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, and Reg Rogers) morph between therapists, academics, etiquette specialists, and at least a dozen other personas. These mentors attempt to guide Radcliffe’s character as he desperately seeks to understand how he can open himself up to connecting with others in a digital age without losing an essential part of himself in the technological vortex that makes up our day-to-day lives.
It goes without saying that the performances were top-tier, every actor navigating a rather frenetic production with masterful poise. I was also impressed by how funny the play is (although perhaps I should have been tipped off by Dratch’s casting), adding quite a bit of levity to a pretty heavy topic. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I found myself laughing, given that the play doesn’t bill itself as a comedy. Of course, one of the wonderful things about Privacy is that it manages to meld its humor with intelligent consideration of an issue that faces pretty much everyone in 2016: How much of ourselves should we make public online? How much information about ourselves do we give away without knowing it?
To the Internet-savvy audience member, a few of the arguments made in the early parts of Privacy will seem old hat. Most of us have already grappled with (and formed an opinion about) what we think about the practice of sharing minute details of our lives on platforms like Twitter or Instagram and where we personally fall on the scale of “only posting if I’m entering a contest” to “letting everyone know that I just got a nosebleed.” Radcliffe’s character in particular seems to adopt an attitude more suited to a member of an older generation rather than the Millennial era we’re living in now, but his naivete serves as an excellent springboard for discussion. Plus, as the evening goes on and the play delves more deeply into the topic, all but the most paranoid among us will learn something new about the ways in which individuals are tracked online.
Much of the performance is based on real interviews, offering perspectives ranging from ad executives to journalists and beyond. You’ll soon find yourself falling into a fascinating world full of unpredictable twists and turns; you’ll be even more surprised to find that world is our own.