Daniel Radcliffe and the entire audience receive an extensive schooling in the unsettling cultural, psychological and legal implications of contemporary internet usage (including consumer data collection and government surveillance) in “Privacy,” which just opened off-Broadway.
Inspired by the revelations of Edward Snowden (who makes an appearance via a recorded video clip), “Privacy” is a freewheeling, overstuffed adventure saga where the lone individual confronts the wonders and terrors of current phone and computer technology, combined with bits of romantic comedy, documentary drama, social criticism, lecturing, Shakespeare, legalese, audience interaction and games.
It is a co-production of the Public Theater and London’s Donmar Warehouse, co-created by playwright James Graham (“Finding Neverland”) and director Josie Rourke.
Radcliffe, who plays a mopey loner, is encouraged to get over a traumatic breakup by opening himself up to the infinite possibilities of social media, including online dating. In the process, he receives advice from prominent industry professionals, journalists and academics (who are impersonated by a versatile ensemble, which includes Rachel Dratch of “Saturday Night Live”).
In a change of normal protocol, audience members are encouraged to not only keep their cellphones on, but take them out and take part in Radcliffe’s education. At my performance, I was directed to take a selfie, look up my Uber rating and search my iPhone to see just how much data it collects about me without my knowledge.
Audience members may also be surprised to see facts about their own lives and photos from their cellphones incorporated into the show, leaving them feeling just as uncomfortably exposed as Radcliffe. (See the disclaimer for ticket buyers on the Public Theater website.)
Whereas Radcliffe has taken on some very challenging roles on Broadway in recent years, his function here is far more passive, with the show being directed at him and all around him, but he does show off his considerable comic abilities.
As a piece of theater, “Privacy” is all over the place, but it makes its points about the utter lack of personal privacy in today’s day and age with clarity as well as shock value, fast facts and fun exercises.
If you go
“Privacy” plays at the Public Theater through Aug. 14. 425 Lafayette St.,publictheater.org.