Photo: Manuel Harlan

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


July 25, 2016: Oh, for a wizard’s spell that would allow me to tell you everything, and then erase it completely from your memory. But though I paid rapt attention during the afternoon and evening I spent at “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which opened in a blaze of outrageous enchantment on Monday night at the Palace Theater here, I failed to pick up on any recipe for inducing post-tell-all amnesia in Muggles, which is Potter-speak for nonwizards like you and me. This eagerly anticipated, two-part, five-hour-plus sequel to J. K. Rowling’s best-selling, seven-volume series of “Harry Potter” novels is the kind of play that you want to describe in detail, if only to help you figure out how it achieves what is does. That would be a kind of magic that is purely theatrical yet somehow channels the addictive narrative grip of Ms. Rowling’s prose. Unfortunately, those who have scored tickets to this two-part production, which is sold out through May, are given buttons as they leave the theater that admonish “#KeepTheSecrets.” And I do not want to antagonize Potter fans, who tend to be as vigilant and vengeful as the army of Death Eaters that polices the evil empire of He Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort. Voldemort is now long gone, of course. Or is he? The story of “The Cursed Child” — conceived by Ms. Rowling with its playwright, Jack Thorne, and director, John Tiffany — makes such questions impossible to answer, and I’m not just being coy because of my pledge of silence. This is a work in which the past casts a distressingly substantive shadow. The past, as Faulkner would say, isn’t even past. Photo Anthony Boyle, left, and Sam Clemmett in this play. Credit Manuel Harlan This point of view saturates “The Cursed Child,” which seems to occur in a land of hypnotically luminous darkness that should mesmerize adults as effectively as children. By even existing, this play is destined to fight against the gravitational force of the memories of young readers. I mean the ones whose coming of age paralleled that of Harry Potter (who advanced from 11 to 17) in the books and the eight blockbuster films they inspired and who may want the Boy Who Lived to stay frozen forever as he was when they last encountered him. As a character in “The Cursed Child” says, “Playing with time — you know we can’t do that.” But playing with time, both gleefully and earnestly, is exactly what this show’s creators are doing. (The production’s memorable images include the most dazzlingly disturbing clocks since the heyday of Salvador Dalí.) Its plot is built on a fantasy that most of us indulge from early childhood: What if we could rewrite our own histories? That premise has been the basis for works as different as the “Back to the Future” film franchise and Nick Payne’s recent physics-infused boy-meets-girl play, “Constellations.” But the notion is singularly well suited to the purposes of “The Cursed Child,” which unfolds as a sort of multiple-choice narrative, allowing Potter fans to encounter various might-have-been, might-yet-be paths for characters they already know intimately and for the new ones introduced here. Continue reading the main story Related Coverage And yes, the old gang is back, or at least the members of it who survived Ms. Rowling’s final Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The first scene of the play is identical to the last one in that novel, and uses much of the same dialogue. Ask Ben Brantley a question about the London theater scene. * Continue By submitting to us, you are promising that the content is original, does not plagiarize from anyone or infringe a copyright or trademark, does not violate anyone’s rights and is not libelous or otherwise unlawful or misleading. You are agreeing that we can use your submission in all manner and media of The New York Times and that we shall have the right to authorize third parties to do so. And you agree to our Terms of Service. Harry (Jamie Parker, who does Potter pain beautifully), now on the edge of middle age and an employee of the Ministry of Magic, and his wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), are found at King’s Cross railroad station in London, seeing two of their sons — James (Tom Milligan) and Albus (Sam Clemmet) — off to his alma mater, Hogwarts, the academy of magic that provided him with an especially enlightening, if punishing, education. It will be the anxious Albus’s first year, and like his dad, he is a proud, prickly and sensitive plant. Joining Harry and company are his old chums and allies in the fight against darkness, the goofy Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley, delightful) and the perpetual A-student Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni, a black actress whose casting provoked controversy but who is perfect in the part), now married and the parents of a Hogwarts-bound girl, Rose (Cherrelle Skeete). Harry’s former archrival, Draco Malfoy (Alex Price), is there, too, with his son, Scorpius (Anthony Boyle). Like Albus, Scorpius is a Hogwarts newbie and the two boys seem destined to become best friends, along with an amiable young woman with blue-tipped hair, Delphi Diggory (Esther Smith). It is a triumvirate that will prove dangerous for, well, pretty much the entire world. Fraught, yearning relationships between fathers and their progeny shape both the play’s form and its content. Who is that cursed child, anyway? More than a few of this story’s many, many characters (the adeptly multifarious cast numbers 42) might fit the description. Like the novels that preceded it, “The Cursed Child” is stuffed with arcana-filled plots that defy diagrams and baldly wrought sentimental life lessons, along with anguished dives into the earnest, tortured solipsism of adolescence. By rights, such a combination should try the patience of any grown-up. But like Ms. Rowling’s books, the play vanquishes resistance. Photo From left, Alex Price, Paul Thornley, Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller. Credit Manuel Harlan I reread “The Deathly Hallows” on the flight to London from New York, and I was amazed at how naturally what I saw on the stage seemed to flow from the page. Mr. Thorne, Mr. Tiffany and their movement director, Steven Hoggett, and set designer, Christine Jones, collaborated previously on the chilling adolescent vampire play “Let the Right One In,” and they are all expert in mapping the intersection of the uncanny and the everyday. Along with a team that includes Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting) and Imogen Heap (music), Mr. Tiffany and his cast conjure the self-contained world(s) of Ms. Rowling’s books with imagistic wit, precision and, occasionally, stark terror. A convocation of wizards is evoked through the simultaneous swirling of black capes; an otherworldly, xenophobic and unsettlingly topical-feeling Fascist brigade materializes and multiplies out of yawning darkness; and staircases, bookcases and suitcases assume varied and miraculous lives that propel both themes and story. This production captures Ms. Rowling’s sensibility even more persuasively than did the special-effects-driven films. True, the movies were blessed with an unmatchable stable of idiosyncratic British character actors like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith and, as Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes (now safely ensconced across town at the Almeida Theater, embodying another avatar of evil, Richard III). But in “The Cursed Child,” everyone onstage has direct, present-tense responsibility for the story being told. And most of them play many parts. That includes the show’s principals, though I won’t reveal how and why they do so. Suffice it to say that these transformations become haunting, funny physical reflections of our desire to connect with the people we only think we know well, with the dead who linger in our lives and with the selves we once were and will be. The word for these imaginative leaps of faith is empathy. That’s the magic practiced so affectingly and entertainingly in “The Cursed Child,” and it turns everyone in the audience into a sorcerer’s apprentice.



OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Merchant of Venice


July 22, 2016: Light barely seems to penetrate the atmosphere of “The Merchant of Venice” in the brooding, powerful production from Shakespeare’s Globe that’s being presented through the weekend as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Little illumination filters through the carved wooden walls that dominate the set, and a blanket of smoke often shrouds the stage like a thick fog, as if to hide the iniquity so vividly on display. The production, which stars a deeply moving Jonathan Pryce as Shylock, does begin on a frolicsome note, with masked actors dancing onstage, as during Venice’s carnival. But a note of discord, of brutality, brings the merriment to a disturbing close, as two Jewish men passing by are attacked and thrown to the ground. Throughout the director Jonathan Munby’s lucid and strongly acted staging, we will remain aware that while this Shakespearean play is classified as a comedy and is poised ambivalently between light and dark, it will generally be the baser aspects of humanity that prevail. This overriding tone, I’m sorry to say, seems eerily attuned to the current troubles that roil the world. The exception, to a degree, is Mr. Pryce’s eloquent, beautifully rendered Shylock, whose abuse at the hands of the Christians of Venice is drawn in stark relief. He is treated with an unusually vicious scorn and even violence by the title character, Antonio (Dominic Mafham), to whom he agrees to lend money in exchange for a bond demanding the famous pound of flesh. But he greets this debasement, and more, with a degree of measured calm that suggests that Shylock has known — or fears — far worse, and must temper his reaction to suit what he knows of the world in which he lives and prospers. It is only in the enclosed realm of his own home, where he can lock the brutalities of the world outside, that he feels any measure of safety. But, of course, Shylock also locks the world’s joys outside — the pleasures of music and play — feeding the discontent and yearning for freedom of his daughter, Jessica, here played with rich feeling by Mr. Pryce’s daughter, Phoebe Pryce. We can sympathize with Jessica’s sense of suffocation and her escape into the arms of the Christian Lorenzo (a likably dashing Andy Apollo), even as Ms. Pryce gently underscores Jessica’s growing ambivalence at her casual, impulsive betrayal of her father. While Mr. Pryce invests even Shylock’s fits of anger and vengeance with a measured complexity, the Portia of Rachel Pickup has fewer grace notes, coming across here mostly as a smart but imperious young woman. She asserts control over her destiny with a brisk asperity that never reveals many glints of warmth, rendering the romantic comedy of the play almost an afterthought. True, the passages in which suitors must choose among three caskets — gold, silver and lead — to win Portia’s hand, is played for robust laughs, with the Prince of Morocco portrayed as a bumbler by Giles Terra, and the Prince of Aragon as a simpering fop by Christopher Logan. But this supposed comedy’s humorous aspects are largely handed over to Stefan Adegbola’s wily, exuberant Launcelot Gobbo, who invites two members of the audience to join him onstage, embodying his debate about whether to abandon his Jewish master, Shylock, and throw his lot in with the Christians. (Gobbo’s father, a rather tiresome character, has been mercifully excised.) The trial scene, the play’s dramatic climax if not its conclusion, brings out the contrast between the affecting dignity of Mr. Pryce’s Shylock and the less palatable aspects of his enemies. Mr. Mafham’s Antonio is shackled to an iron bar, his arms splayed out and his body lifted from the ground, in a pose that obviously evokes Christ on the cross, suggesting that those who are conducting this trial are intent on drawing the comparison, turning Shylock into the stock Jew of vile stereotype, the Christ-killer. Mr. Pryce’s Shylock, meanwhile, evinces little rage and thirst for vengeance — he knows better than to fall into the traps laid for him — but instead argues his case with a measured rationality that, despite its monstrous consequences, never feels tinged with unbridled malice. On the other hand, Portia — disguised as the lawyer Bassanio, arguing for the life of Antonio — seems almost sadistic when she gives her verdict in Shylock’s favor, only to reverse herself at the last minute and, with cool calculation, assert that Shylock himself is guilty of trying to take the life of a Christian. Mr. Pryce’s confusion and abasement are painful to watch, as Antonio seems to relish his control over his persecutor’s fate, allowing him to live only if he converts to Christianity. But in the unsparing view of Mr. Munby’s production, even the victorious Antonio must face the harsh truth that those who do not conform to the prescribed standards of the Christianity of the period are doomed to be outcasts. As in many productions, it is hinted early on that Antonio’s feeling for Bassanio (a solid Dan Fredenburgh) contains elements of sexual, or at least romantic, attraction. But when, after the trial has concluded, Antonio impulsively draws Bassanio into an overly warm embrace, Bassanio rebuffs him with a disgusted shove. “The Merchant of Venice” ostensibly (well, literally) ends with the reunion of Portia and her maid Nerissa (a nicely dry Dorothea Myer-Bennett), with their lovers, Bassanio and Gratiano (Jolyon Coy). But even this scene comes across as something less than flirtatious and celebratory. There’s an element of teasing cruelty in the air as Portia and Nerissa demand to see the rings they gave to their lovers, after blackmailing them, in their male guises, into handing them over in thanks for saving the life of Bassanio’s benefactor, Antonio. The pealing of wedding bells doesn’t exactly ring in our ears as we watch them play with their men like cats batting around mice. But a more cheerful slant to the scene would belie the production’s overriding sense of melancholy. A coda depicting Shylock’s enforced baptism, while Jessica sings a Jewish prayer for forgiveness, concludes the evening on a harrowing note. Mr. Pryce illuminates Shylock’s anguish so vividly, his face a contorted mask of spiritual suffering, that it all but erases any sense of contrasting light and dark in the play. We have reached the heart of the matter, and it is a place where mercy, love and what we commonly think of as simple humanity hold little sway.


BROADWAY REVIEW: Motown: The Musical

Motown the Musical

July 21, 2016: “What’s going on?” When Jarran Muse, playing Marvin Gaye, sings those words and a verse or two of the song they come from in “Motown: The Musical,” which has opened at the Nederlander Theater in a limited return engagement, they carry an unsettling relevance they did not have when the show originally opened more than three years ago. A celebratory musical paying tribute to the black music explosion led by Berry Gordy’s Detroit label, “Motown” devotes only a few scenes to the civil rights movement and the tumult of the late 1960s. But they give it a new and unusual relevance after more than a year of troubled race relations, with many commentators drawing comparisons (and others making distinctions) between now and then. By no means has “Motown” been transformed into a thoughtful or probing musical. Under Charles Randolph-Wright’s direction, it remains what it was: a sparkling and enjoyable, if lumpy, journey through 25 years of Motown history. It’s just that the climax of the first act, and the opening minutes of the second, give the show a jolt of emotional currency that contrasts strikingly with its nostalgic spirit. The central roles have been recast, with excellent singing actors who are mostly equal to the fine originals. As Gordy, Chester Gregory could use more intensity to illuminate the relentless — some would say ruthless — drive of the man who helped usher in a pop-music revolution. But he brings some nice nuances to the role, accentuating Gordy’s brooding grievance as the stars he created begin to desert him. (Mr. Gordy himself wrote the musical’s book.) As Diana Ross, Gordy’s love interest and one of his biggest discoveries, Allison Semmes, who understudied the role in the show’s first go-round (and played the famously ousted Supreme, Florence Ballard), exudes a mixture of calculating ambition and youthful naïveté, coquettishly keeping an eye on the main chance even as a teenager. Her singing evokes the cotton candy purr of Ms. Ross’s, without being mere vocal mimicry. And, at the performance I saw, Ms. Semmes revealed a nimbly funny way with audience interaction during the “Reach Out and Touch” number. Jesse Nager’s honeyed tenor is a perfect match for Smokey Robinson, one of Gordy’s strongest allies and early stars. Mr. Muse finds the fiery rebellious streak that emerges as Gaye finds his voice and sometimes finds himself in conflict with his boss. And as the young versions of Gordy, Little Stevie Wonder and, most spectacularly, Michael Jackson during the Jackson 5 years, Leon Outlaw Jr. proves a ferocious little dynamo, tearing up the house with his exuberance. (J. J. Batteast alternates in these junior roles.) “Motown” has so much story to tell — Mr. Gordy clearly feels a highlights reel of his career could go on forever — that there’s no time for dramatic subtlety or complexity of character. But who’s coming to see “Motown” for anything other than the fabulous songbook? (The more than 55 titles is surely a record for a jukebox musical.) True, some of your favorites may be shortchanged, or used somewhat awkwardly as “book” songs. But there’s so much music pouring from the stage that Motown fans probably won’t complain when the needle skips to the next track before they have had a chance to savor the last fully.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Takarazuka Chicago


July 21, 2016: Do the Japanese have an expression similar to the British one, noting the folly of bringing coals to Newcastle? Maybe something about bringing a tuna fish sandwich to a sushi bar? That question arose during a performance by the celebrated all-female Japanese theater company Takarazuka on Wednesday night, a presentation of the Lincoln Center Festival at the David H. Koch Theater. The evening concluded, as all this company’s productions do, with a splashy, dizzyingly odd encore, this one lasting well over 15 minutes and including the old Frank Sinatra standard “That’s Life,” among other surrealities. But the show that preceded it was “Chicago,” the musical that has been playing for more than 20 years on Broadway. I’ll confess to some disappointment going in, since I had read about the company and heard glowing reports from friends about its dazzling spectacles and ample repertoire, which includes many other Broadway musicals but also adaptations of classic novels (“Gone With the Wind”!), operas, Shakespeare plays and movies (“Bonnie and Clyde”!). “Chicago,” with its first-rate score by John Kander and Fred Ebb and stiletto-sharp book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, is a great musical, but for theater-loving New Yorkers, it’s not exactly a novelty. My heart sank a little further when I entered the theater to see a gleaming gold proscenium looming above the stage — to knowing eyes, the signature scenic device of the City Center Encores! series. Yes, this is not a fresh take on the musical, an original production, but a virtual facsimile of the one playing a dozen or so blocks downtown, with similar slinky black costumes (by William Ivey Long), the same onstage band contained in a gold-rimmed box (the minimalist sets are by John Lee Beatty), and essentially the same direction (by Walter Bobbie) and choreography (by Ann Reinking, after Bob Fosse’s original). True, it’s performed in Japanese, but this novelty doesn’t bring any new zest to the material, and actually drains some of its cackling wit, since reading Ebb’s scabrous, cynical lyrics does not have the same sucker-punch quality of hearing them sung. And, yes, female performers play the male roles with remarkable verisimilitude. (The rigorously trained Takarazuka performers are divided into specialists in male or female roles, although they can move camps.) But “Chicago” is dominated by its two female leads, the scheming murderers Velma Kelly (Yoka Wao) and Roxie Hart (Hikaru Asami). The significant male roles are but two: the self-regarding lawyer Billy Flynn (Saori Mine) and Roxie’s dupe of a husband, Amos Hart (Chihiro Isono). All that said, I’m happy to praise the performance as a thoroughly polished, well sung and dramatically pert presentation of material I am mightily familiar with, having seen the Broadway revival probably 10 times over the years. Ms. Wao, with her lithe body, long stems and swinging ponytail, makes for an arresting presence as Velma, seething in irritation as she is forever being outmaneuvered by her rival for Billy Flynn’s services, Roxie. As this more skillful schemer, who shot her lover but manages to sweet-talk her husband into coming to her defense, Ms. Asami puts on and removes her facade of innocence with bright comic ingenuity. Ms. Isono’s Amos captures the bumbling pathos of her character nicely in her single solo number, “Mr. Cellophane.” And Ms. Mine all but steals the show in a dazzling turn as Billy Flynn, exuding suaveness, cynicism and sex appeal in equal measures, and singing in a contralto that sounds convincingly, if not eerily, masculine. The highlight of the production, in fact, is the rousing comic number “We Both Reached for the Gun,” in which Roxie sits on Billy’s knee and is manipulated like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Ms. Mine’s voice leaps between Billy’s smooth pseudo-baritone and a bright squeak representing Roxie’s dictated responses with breathtaking ease, making the number even more of a tour de force than it usually is. In the supporting roles, Jun Hatsukaze gleamed with opportunistic malice as the jail matron Mama Morton, and, in a break with Takarazuka tradition, the role of the sob sister journalist Mary Sunshine was played by (nonspoiler alert) a man, T. Okamoto, possessed of a nice operatic trill. Although the Takarazuka performers are famously well drilled in all aspects of performance, connoisseurs of the Fosse style probably will not emerge dazzled by their mastery of his work. While they certainly thrust their hips with gusto, snap their wrists and strike the right jagged poses, the effect is nevertheless a bit like Fosse doused in fabric softener. (And, unfortunately, Ms. Asami experienced cartwheel-fail in the climactic “Hot Honey Rag.”) For me, the fun really started when the musical was over, and the cast had taken its bows. The company then re-emerged, in front of a glittering Art Nouveau swirl of a set piece, to perform a supersize, Las Vegas-flavored encore. This encompassed a full nine different songs, and included Rockettes-style high kicking, a tango and such original numbers as “Glory to Be Takarasiennes” and “Takarazuka, Home in My Heart.” I cannot claim that, with “Chicago,” the company took up residence in mine. For that, I expect I will have to visit the company at its hometown base in the city that gives it its name, to see some of its more exotic repertoire. “The Rose of Versailles” or “Passion: Jose and Carmen” or even — why not? — “An Officer and a Gentleman.”




July 19, 2016: “Small Mouth Sounds,” a quiet gem of a play by Bess Wohl that was first seen Off Broadway at Ars Nova last year, has been restaged at the Pershing Square Signature Center with all its wit, compassion and sparkle fully intact. The sound of silence onstage has rarely made such sweet music. For much of the play’s 100 minutes, most of the characters do not speak. It takes place at a weeklong spiritual retreat where silence is enjoined, although Ms. Wohl’s ingenuity and the sympathetic direction of Rachel Chavkin allow us to read the bleeding hearts of the characters with a lucidity that no amount of dialogue could improve upon. The men and women assembling for a psychic tuneup are a nicely varied bunch. At the head of the class would seem to be the yoga rock star Rodney (Babak Tafti), handsome, bearded, decked out in Buddhist-flavored clothing and prone to twisting his body into elaborate poses. This mildly prickles his assigned roommate, the slightly insecure Ned, who alone among the characters is given a self-explanatory monologue. He deserves a chance to unload. A few years ago poor Ned, who is played with a plangent ache by the terrific Brad Heberlee, fell when rock climbing and shattered his skull. While he was in and out of the hospital, his wife began sleeping with his brother. And it got worse from there. Ned cannot even find peace at this retreat. He takes a quiet shine to the grumpy Alicia (Zoë Winters), who is perhaps the least spiritually evolved — or enthusiastic — of the participants. Reeling from a breakup, she taps out angry texts on her phone whenever she can find a signal. To Ned’s dismay, his attempts to cozy up to her are sidelined when Rodney, more obviously a candidate for hot rebound sex, gets in the way. Also hitting relationship speed bumps recently are Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), committed partners who nevertheless are feeling some understandable strains. Judy, we learn, has recently learned she has cancer. In one of the play’s most tender passages, she has a moment of communion with Jan (Max Baker); wordlessly, we learn that he is still mourning a painful loss. Although the stage at the Signature Center is modestly larger than the one at Ars Nova, there’s no diminishment of the play’s intimacy, which is enhanced by the staging. Most of the action takes place on a rectangular playing space, with the audience seated in a few rows on either side of it. Only when they are receiving instruction from the leader of the retreat — who remains unseen but is voiced with hilariously oily piety by Jojo Gonzalez — do the characters assemble on chairs at one end of the stage. Although Mr. Baker, Ms. Bernstine and Ms. Winters are new to “Small Mouth Sounds,” they inhabit their characters with the same full-hearted openness that marks the work of the actors who are returning to their roles. In a summer of disturbing discord and violence, it’s heartening to renew acquaintance with a play that leaves you moved, refreshed and, yes, maybe even a little enlightened.




July 18, 2016: Grim tidings are spread with great cheer in “Privacy,” James Graham and Josie Rourke’s perky investigation into the consequences of living your life online. This London-born production from 2014 — which opened in an updated, Americanized version (“Brexit” jokes!) at the Public Theater on Monday night — stars a charmingly woebegone Daniel Radcliffe as a writer who has conflicted feelings about all his relationships, but especially the one with the internet. The presence of the man who played Harry Potter isn’t the only reason “Privacy” has become one of New York’s hottest tickets. Viewed as a play, it is neither as profound as it aspires to be nor even entirely cohesive. But it ingeniously recreates that most venerable of entertainments, the magic show, in a form ideally suited to the second decade of the 21st century. Like the work of celebrated prestidigitators (like David Copperfield, Penn & Teller) and mentalists (Derren Brown, the Amazing Kreskin), “Privacy” dazzles and baffles by seeming to know exactly what selected audience members are thinking — and who they are, what they’ve done and where they’ve been. And like such traditional fare, this show fully intends to make you say “wow!” again and again. But “Privacy” goes one painful, enlightening step further by always putting the “ow!” in “wow!” That’s because the secret-wranglers onstage — embodied by a vivacious supporting cast — are not relying principally on human intuition or hidden accomplices or bait-and-switch techniques. No, they can look deep into what passes for your soul these days because they have access to your smartphones. [ “Privacy” is part comedy, part documentary, part lecture-demonstration and part fourth-wall smasher ] In other words, Big Brother and company have replaced the dashing figures who pull rabbits out of hats. Though the play quotes the phrase “be not afeard” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the purpose of “Privacy” is to scare you silly, through only seemingly silly means. By the way, one of the folks who recites those words happens to be Edward J. Snowden — the exiled, whistle-blowing computer whiz and former National Security Agency contractor — whose appearance here is made possible by the double-edged technology that gives “Privacy” its style and substance. I think it’s O.K. to mention Mr. Snowden. (His videotaped appearance in “Privacy” has already been reported.) Like most magic shows, this one ends with a statement from its star (Mr. Radcliffe), asking that we not give away its manifold surprises for future audiences. Since one of the main points of the evening is that no secret is keepable anymore, this feels like a sadly quixotic request, a paradox that Mr. Graham’s script doesn’t exploit as dizzyingly as it might. But to avoid being stigmatized as a spoiler, I will honor Mr. Radcliffe’s plea. Which doesn’t leave me with a whole lot to talk about, except in abstract terms, and the coolest tricks in “Privacy” involve very detailed specifics. Like personal specifics. Like your personal specifics. There is a reason that, for once in a New York theater, you are encouraged to leave your smartphones on throughout the show. Heck, this production even provides free Wi-Fi for you. All the better to see you with, my dears. I’m making “Privacy” sound creepier and more compelling than it ultimately is. As written by Mr. Graham (the author of the terrific British Parliament docudrama “This House”) and Ms. Rourke (the artistic director of Donmar Warehouse in London, where “Privacy” originated), this production is respectful about never crossing certain lines with those watching it, though it promises that it could if it wanted to. The lost soul portrayed by Mr. Radcliffe, known simply as the Writer, is treated less gently. When the play begins, he has just ended a relationship with someone to whom he refers with the gender-neutral pronoun of “they.” Even speaking to his new psychiatrist, Josh Cohen (Reg Rogers), the Writer is coy about “they” — who appears to have walked out precisely because the Writer is so withholding of his innermost self. Being English, he says, he is an instinctively private person, with “a phobia of being known.” In an effort to break down those self-isolating walls, he crosses the Atlantic to New York City, where his ex now resides. (It turns out to be a he, for the record.) Little does the Writer know, at this point, how completely known he is already, simply because he uses his smartphone and laptop. On hand to edify him are a host of fantasy versions of real people who embody different sides of the argument on public versus private selves. Such academic cultural commentators as Sherry Turkle, Jill Lepore and Daniel Solove are introduced to debate the pros and cons of virtual communality. (The real Ms. Turkle, drolly played here by Rachel Dratch, will be participating in a “Privacy” forum at the Public on Aug. 1.) Retailing entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley executives; representatives of government surveillance agencies; politicians and journalists (among them, Ewen MacAskill, a reporter for the London publication The Guardian who helped break the Snowden story) — they also appear to explain how completely we expose ourselves every time we log on. They are brought to chipper, slightly cartoonish life by a cast appealingly rounded out by De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian and Michael Countryman. The technical team — which includes Lucy Osborne (sets), Richard Howell (lighting) and Duncan McLean (projections) — adroitly conjures a world in which what we see on tiny screens seems to grow into three dimensions, even as so-called real life flattens out. The parts of the show I can’t talk about — the many audience participation sequences — are both its giddiest and most sobering. “Privacy” doesn’t provide much material that hasn’t been rehashed many times in newspaper and magazine (and blog and vlog) essays. It can feel rather like one of those middle school instructional films that use a likable animated creature (a talking dinosaur or skeleton, maybe) to keep its distractible young viewers hooked. The scene in which I felt most engaged, confused and affected involves little techno sleight of hand, just a very deft performer (that would be Mr. Radcliffe) treading water in an improvisational sequence. Or was it? I can say no more. But it’s a relief to be able to report that “Privacy” shines brightest when it comes down to a single actor plying centuries-old tricks of his trade.



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