Newman Theater, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor P.
Tuesday through Sunday through August 14, $100
Tickets to James Graham and Josie Rourke’s Privacy come with a unique set of terms and conditions, advising “Privacy is a unique theatrical production that involves interactive moments with the audience, designed to explore how public many details of our lives have become. In order to better explore these issues, information that you provide when purchasing ticket(s) to the production of Privacy at the Public Theater will be used to inform some moments during your performance.” As far as “involving” theater goes, this coproduction with London’s Donmar Warehouse takes it to the next level, especially when, right before the show begins, the prerecorded voice of Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis asks audience members to leave their phone on, and then an address is given where they can send photos and texts to. Daniel Radcliffe stars as the Writer, a young man obsessing over his recent breakup with his boyfriend, who accused him of being too closed off. He is too scared to open up and share his innermost thoughts even with a psychiatrist (Reg Rogers), who guides him into situations in which he mentally faces his divorced parents (Rachel Dratch and Michael Countryman) and meets experts on information technology, cybersecurity, surveillance, social media, and personal privacy in the age of the iPhone. Among those he speaks with are Harvard professor Jill Lepore, journalists Ewen MacAskill and James Bamford, OKCupid cofounder Christian Rudder, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg, FBI director James Comey, and U.S. senator Ron Wyden. These experts and family who enter the Writer’s mind are played by De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, an excellent Countryman, a terrific Dratch, and an outstanding Rogers and are identified by a projection of their faces and credentials on a large rear wall; all of their words are based on original interviews conducted by Graham and Rourke. As the Writer considers sharing more of his life with the psychiatrist as well as online, the audience is asked numerous times to text information or photos that are processed by onstage researcher Harry Davies and, within minutes, are incorporated into the show in clever ways. It’s almost like magic, but instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Davies reveals surprisingly easy-to-access details about audience members. It’s both funny and frightening, but to say much more would give away too many of the show’s “tricks,” including a video appearance by a very special guest near the end.
The casting of Radcliffe (The Cripple of Inishmaan, Equus) to play the shy, reserved Writer works on two major levels; first, he is excellent in the role, his unwillingness to talk about himself and his hesitant body movements beautifully capturing his character’s fears. In addition, Radcliffe became such an international star from the Harry Potter movies that he probably enjoys very little privacy in real life. He is particularly effective in a scene that may or may not be mostly improvised. When he is not the main subject of attention in the show, it drags significantly, but fortunately that is never for too long. Lucy Osborne’s uncomplicated set design allows Duncan McLean’s creative projections to often steal the audience’s attention, especially when — well, you’ll have to find that our for yourself, but don’t be surprised if you discover something rather personal about various people seated around you. Meanwhile, you won’t learn much about the cast in the Playbill, as numerous words and sentences have been redacted. And if you’re wondering who is providing the voiceovers, it’s British actors Simon Russell Beale and Harriet Walter. The first half of the show, which focuses on the Writer, is much stronger than the second half, which occasionally gets lost in the marvels of technology and the implications of sharing private information online. Also, if you already closely follow the ongoing controversies about government surveillance, drones, hacked email servers, smartphone protections, social media and online shopping algorithms, and other such privacy concerns, you might not learn much that is new. But writer Graham (This House, Finding Neverland) and director Rourke (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, City of Angels), who have also collaborated on The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse, maintain just enough drama to keep all of the data from overwhelming the story. (Radcliffe will be taking part in a TimesTalk with director Daniel Ragussis at the TimesCenter on August 8 at 7:00, discussing their upcoming film, Imperium; tickets are available here.)