. More than ever, the question of privacy, revealing classified information, and the people’s right to know has taken on iconic proportions during this era of terrorism, corruption, and scandal.
Are whistle blowers, hackers, and people who reveal dirty, little (and big) secrets heroes or treasonous enemies, treacherous to our country’s security? Where do we draw the line?
In Zayd Dohrn’s one-act, two-people play, currently performed at New Repertory’s Black Box Theater, the playwright pits an ambitious “almost 26-year-old” American activist female who believes in full disclosure against an “almost 40-year-old” British political journalist-hacker, who’s on a global lecture circuit. He’s scheduled to speak in Berlin, Paris, and other high-profile cities, but he’s staying one step ahead of authorities seeking to capture him.
Dohrn wrote the play in 2010, when Bradley-now-Chelsea Manning, a 22-year-old Army sergeant and intelligence analyst, leaked classified information from the US State and Defense departments. The play premiered at Barrington Stage in 2013, coincidentally when 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information to journalists, who, in turn, published some of it throughout the world.
Dohrn’s play has some holes, but accomplished actors Esme Allen as Mira and Lewis D. Wheeler as Stephen are so entertaining, we don’t quibble over details, such as his paranoia about getting captured, yet he lectures in public, gets tipsy, and loosens up with this pretty young activist stranger. Besides making these two characters likable and believable, Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary keeps their discourse and action tightly timed, ratcheting up the intrigue.
Allen and Wheeler as Stephen expertly play a challenging, ping-pong-style, cat-and-mouse game as two strangers thrown together after he lectures in her group. There wasn’t enough money to pay for putting Stephen up in a hotel, so Mira, who claims to be a Smith College graduate, originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., takes him in for the night at her studio flat. She works for the Durga Project, an activist group that wants full transparency - to keep everything out in the open.
She bolsters his ego, telling him he’s admired around the world for printing classified information - a rock star. “You’ve opened the floodgates with one leak,” she gushes. Noting his paranoia, she adds, no one would try to kill him.
But he knows he’s constantly being followed, he retorts. Stephen pat searches Mira. He makes her leave the bathroom door open when she goes pee. He searches her apartment for “bugs”.
Throughout the evening, Mira challenges the public’s right to full disclosure - complete transparency, she says - while Stephen, is highly protective of his fragile military source.
Stephen’s willing to disclose anything about his personal life, but nothing else, he insists. But Mira is coy, cagey, flirtatious, able to get him to reveal more than he intended.
Drinking more, he lets down his guard as the couple’s flirtation escalates into a nude romp in her bed, nicely nuanced by Christopher Brusberg’s lighting.
His phone rings continuously with important messages. He takes one call, which upsets him greatly, reducing him to tears. And she comforts him.
Thing is, which one is actually totally transparent and truthful? Is Mira who she says she is? Does she fully understand Stephen’s situation and the consequences involved if she exposes him further?
Dohrn keeps theatergoers questioning with his surprising plot turns and ending.
“Muckrakers” should top your list of things-to-see, especially during today’s worldwide terrorist attacks, political grandstanding, and the media’s eagerness to expose whatever it can, rightfully or not.
BOX INFO:One-act, 80-minute play by Zayd Dohrn, appearing through Feb. 1, with New Repertory Theatre, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Performances: Jan.30, at 8 p.m.; Jan. 29, at 2,7:30 p.m.; Jan. 31, at 3,8 p.m.; Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. only. Talkbacks Jan. 29, Feb. 1, after the 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets, $36; senior, student, group discounts. Call the Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visit newrep.org