The lights go down at the top of the show. The audience falls silent, and all feels typical for those accustomed to attending the theater.
Suddenly, the walls on stage fill with large projections –images of internet posts filled with people, comments, and videos. The images all scroll at top speed – slow enough that you may catch a quick glimpse of the image, but only just. With the images scrolling at different speeds and in varying directions, you may wonder where you should even look at any given moment.
Over the course of this opening scene, we see the ensemble quickly crossing through the stage – all in different directions. No one interacts, and all are glued to their phones. As individuals on stage start to disperse and exit, two start crossing towards each other – still very much concentrating on their screens. The projections on stage begin to slow down, and an image perhaps familiar to some comes into focus. These two individuals are looking at dating profiles, and as they approach, a green match symbol takes over. As Derril (Adam Shalzi) and Sarita (Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez) look up and into each other’s eyes, it’s clear the profiles check out, and the first date is about to commence.
With the reveal of the green match symbol, the theater for this particular performance filled with laughter. That first date awkwardness is familiar to so many, and all seemed ready to lean in and watch what was about to unfold.
Raven Theatre presents Chicago Premiere of Right to Be Forgotten
Written by Sharyn Rothstein, Right to be Forgotten follows Derril Lark (Shalzi) – a PhD Candidate whose life is haunted by a mistake he made at 17 that has been immortalized on the internet. Consumed by what he believed to be love for a fellow classmate, Eve (Jamila Tyler), he inadvertently started stalking her. Full of fear and anxiety, Eve posts about the experience online – which results in a series of comments, posts, and re-posts that grows out of control over the course of ten years. Desperate for a normal life, he goes through great lengths to erase his digital footprint – including hiring lawyer Marta Lee (Susaan Jamshidi). A political battle ensues against the tech giants of the world – one they are certainly not willing to lose without a fight. As truths quickly rise to the surface, all involved have to decide if the fight is worth all the aftermath that could follow.
Helmed by Director Sarah Gitenstein, the artistic team infuses the fast-paced and intense energy of the internet into every area of the production – including the design. In every transition, Projections Designers Reese Craig and Liviu Pasare fill the stage with a constant feed of images – all connected in some way to the scene prior. The story reminds us that the internet is always present in today’s world, and we as an audience are never granted the opportunity to forget that fact. We witness the characters become overwhelmed by the internet in their lives, and through the design and intimate space, you may find that you are invited to feel that sense right alongside them.
Rothstein’s play certainly does not reveal a surprising truth about the internet. We all know that it’s impossible to completely separate ourselves from the digital world, and everything we post in some way becomes immortalized – whether or not we like it. However, Rothstein is careful to also build sympathetic characters within the story – ones you may find yourself rooting to see succeed that also invite a human perspective around the right to privacy online.
About midway through the play, we see Derril and Sarita meet again at the same coffee shop as their first date. Sarita has asked him to meet so she could officially explain why she cannot date him. As much as she understands that his mistakes happened when he was a teenager, the online presence is still very real, and she feels she can’t quite handle that in a relationship.
Sarita stands, pacing as she speaks and Derril quietly remains seated, listening the entire time. We know how much he likes her, and he cannot take his eyes off of her. It was their first date that drove him to start the battle with Lawyer Marta Lee in the first place, and this is certainly not the news he wanted to receive. Almost out of breath, Sarita finally finishes explaining herself and takes a seat. Derril looks at her calmly and responds not only that he understands, but that he was sorry to hear about her father who had recently passed. Never does he fight it, and as they quietly look at each other, it’s clear that both wish more could be done to save their potential relationship. The audience at this performance was silent.
Rothstein creates a character within Derril full of compassion. Never once does he claim that his mistakes should be excused. He only wishes for a better life, and in this moment, we as an audience can see first hand the very real ramifications of a teenager making a choice that for better or for worse, can never truly be forgotten.
Thought-provoking questions and new perspectives make Right to Be Forgotten a story of the moment. You may feel that the world is full of stories about the internet, but Rothstein offers a window into an emotional, human side that might just make you too just wonder.
Lucy Carapetyan (Annie Zahirovic), Kroydell Galima (Alvaro Santos), Susaan Jamshidi (Marta Lee), Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez (Sarita Imari), Adam Shalzi (Derril Lark) and Jamila Tyler (Eve Selinsky).
Jeffrey D. Kmiec (Scenic Designer), Finnegan Chu (Costume Designer), Liz Gomez (Lighting Designer), Eric Backus (Sound Designer), Ivy Treccani (Props Designer), Reese Craig and Liviu Pasare (Projection Designers), Sarah Slight (Dramaturg), Nora Geffen (Assistant Dramaturg), Catherine Miller (Casting Director), Mia Thomas (Assistant Costume Designer), Tor Campbell (Assistant Director), Lorenzo Blackett (Production Manager), Alan Weusthoff (Technical Director), Rose Johnson (Scenic Artist), Mark Brown (Master Electrician), James Chapman (Stage Manager) and Shana Gordon (Assistant Stage Manager).
February 9 – March 26, 2023
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm.
Raven Theatre East Stage
6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville)
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.