Off Broadway Review: Daniel Radcliffe in ‘Privacy’

De'Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, Rachel Dratch, Daniel Radcliffe, Reg Rogers. With voices of Simon Russell Beale and Harriet Walter.  

Wait! Do you really want to click on that Baby Pandas / Neo-Nazi / S&M website? British scribe James Graham and Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke, who co-created the mind-bending theatrical experience they call “Privacy,” would like to enlighten you on how much personal data you surrender to governments and corporations (not to mention hackers) whenever you go on the web.  Just buying your ticket to this show has given the Public Theater instant access to your whole life history. 

Daniel Radcliffe, who’s made auspicious Broadway appearances in shows including “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and  “The Cripple of Inishman,” is enormously appealing as The Writer in this confounding play. After being dumped by his lover for being “emotionally unreachable,” this Everyman figure undertakes a painful journey of self-discovery. The irony is that every intimate detail about his private life that he’s been so carefully guarding is already out there — and everyone in the world has access to it.

No matter how digitally savvy you are, it’s impossible not to identify with this sweet schmuck as he stumbles through the vast world of the web to discover that there’s no such thing as privacy. That’s because both the playwright and his director, Rourke, have written the audience into the script — which doesn’t technically exist without our participation.

To draw us into this heavily interactive production, we’re encouraged to turn on our cell phones at the top of the show, and then offered the option to take selfies and post them to the Public Theater website. Those who go along are likely to find their faces projected (through the design wizardry of Duncan McLean) onto the giant screen that dominates Lucy Osborne’s coolly handsome set, with its ominous backdrop of row upon row of thumbprints.

As the Writer struggles to make sense of it all (Radcliffe is uncommonly skilled at playing bewilderment), audience members are asked to question their own relationships with the Internet. Prompted to check how Google auto-completes the query “Is it wrong to …,” our crowd responded with everything from “be gay” to “be French.”  Harry Davies, the “research and digital associate” who sits onstage in front of a computer, illustrates all this on the spot and in real time, which is pretty amazing. Some people sitting in the house might even find themselves onstage, being interviewed by the Writer on whatever personal data Davies has managed to dig up on them.

Like the Writer, we might be surprised to learn how much personal data we send out into the world just by ordering pizza. But that’s not as shocking as the revelation that your supermarket might know you’re pregnant before you do. Nothing sinister about that, just a sophisticated tracking system that monitors even the subtlest deviations in your normal buying habits.

More than a dozen journalists, scholars, politicians, and entrepreneurs like Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg — all of them played by a multi-tasking backup cast that includes Michael Countryman, Reg Rogers and Rachel Dratch — weigh in with advice, instructions, and warnings to the floundering Writer. All these professional testimonies are delivered verbatim from interviews conducted with the subjects.

Dratch is especially persuasive as the M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle, who argues for the importance of solitude in our lives. “Without privacy, there can be no community,” she says. Others warn that the deterioration of human conversation could lead to the loss of all human connections, an irony noted by New York Law School’s Ari Ezra Waldman (Raffi Barsoumian) when he points out that the worldwide web was originally intended to bring us all together. Edward Snowden himself makes an appearance late in the game.

Over the course of this ever-surprising play, the Writer keeps learning how the Internet overrides what he thinks of as free will. He explores Google, LinkedIn, email, Twitter, Facebook and porn sites. He goes on dating sites. He gets hacked. He has his identity stolen. But in the end, he can’t answer the big question:  Who owns your life?

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: Daniel Radcliffe in 'Privacy'

Public Theater / Newman Theater; 299 seats; top $125. Opened July 18, 2016; reviewed July 14. Running time: TWO HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater / Donmar Warehouse presentation of a play in two acts co-created by James Graham & Josie Rourke and written by Graham.

Creative: Directed by Josie Rourke. Sets, Lucy Osborne; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Richard Howell; sound, Lindsay Jones; projections, Duncan McLean; original music, Michael Bruce; (onstage) digital research, Harry Davies; production stage manager, Peter Wolf.

Cast: De'Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, Rachel Dratch, Daniel Radcliffe, Reg Rogers. With voices of Simon Russell Beale and Harriet Walter.  

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content