There came a point during the performance I attended of this captivating and skillfully acted piece when tense silences between the two main characters were met by the utter stillness of a still audience holding its collective breath. This sustained attention – in pans of thick calm tension – was an unprecedented theatrical experience. In part, we were hanging on every word these two people had, caught up in their conflict, wondering who would speak next, what might be said. And in part, it felt like we were all aware of a breach of trust between them that was so private and personal that we weren’t allowed to witness it.
Mona Pirnot’s play Private – now playing Mosaic Theater and one of the most electrifying new works I’ve seen on any stage – analyze the word private in two fascinating ways: In the macro sense, the play is set in a future saturated with so much surveillance that citizens must purchase privacy insurance in case their personal data is leaked. In a micro sense, the play ruthlessly dissects what happens in a relationship between two formerly loving and faithful married thirtysomethings – he, Corbin, a product engineer, and she, Georgia, an aspiring musician – when a lie between them violates the foundations of their relationship and a question arises about how close each should be to the other.
Here is a peephole view of the abyss that opens between them.
GEORGIE: What else did you lie to me about?
CORBIN: Nothing. I,
GEORGIA: If you lied about this, you lied about other things
CORBIN: I really don’t
GEORGIA: You are lying right now
CORBIN: I’m not. I can’t think of anything/thing.
GEORGIE: How can I believe you now?
GEORGIA: That’s not who I thought you were.
CORBIN: You know who I am.
GEORGIA: Me? I do not know
It’s as if Pirnot scripted the subtext of every relationship betrayal and said all the quiet parts out loud.
The two lead characters, whose dramatic arcs ensnare us, are played by two perfectly matched actors: Georgia’s razor-sharp wit finds expression in a gripping performance by Tẹmídayọ Amay, and Eric Berryman carries the sincere desire to Corbin to please as a cozy sweater. In the tight timing of their terse lines, one can discern a cast rapport that underpins even their characters’ sharpest ripostes. The conviction linked to their stage work amazes the scene.
The dialogue-rich action takes place on scenographer Luciana Stecconi’s spare set, a yellowish space with a soft, nonspecific surface that alternately becomes two apartments and a workplace. On the ceiling, lighting designer Masha Tsimring places fluorescent lights that signal changes in location. Everything works seamlessly.
At first, we are in Georgia and Corbin’s living room. Corbin, dressed by Danielle Preston in cheesy glasses and high-waisted pants, arrives home after being offered a job at a startup that would mean twice as much income as they currently have. The catch is that her employer would have to know and own her privacy – there would be algorithms listening to literally everything. Georgia, who we meet barefoot in waist-length braids and sleek, sylph loungewear, will have none of it. Their occasional affection is apparent, but Georgia is adamant Corbin must negotiate the confidentiality package or turn down the job.
Thus sets in motion a scenario that captures at every turn.
At the workplace where Corbin might get this job, he tries to make a deal with the boss’s assistant, Abbey, a way around the confidentiality clause. Sophie Schulman captures Abbey’s chatter exactly. Later, we find Georgia at the apartment of her longtime friend Jordan, whom she asks for help in her musical career. In the sympathetic ease with which Ben Katz plays Jordan, it’s not hard to see why he perhaps knows Georgia better than Corbin.
The spacious, nondescript set sometimes becomes wonderfully metaphorical, as when Georgia hides in a corner, stuck, or when Georgia and Corbin are far left and far right as if separated by the chasm that separates them. separate.
And the pace and timing of this show is amazing. It’s a precise and complex score – from the staccato crosstalk to the raging air of a monologue to the voids of silence so full of unspoken feelings that almost hurt – and the kudos for directing it go to the director. Knud Adams.
When Georgia and Corbin’s relationship is most strained, most distressed, she breaks a silence with a line that just blew my mind:
GEORGIA: I don’t know how to have this conversation or any other conversation with you when we have an audience
Georgia means, of course, the surveillance system to which she and Corbin are inevitably subjected. She knows there is technology that tracks every word they say and she doesn’t want to be overheard. But the line also lands with us, the audience in the house, making us aware of the extraordinary intimacy we have been left with.
Duration: 70 minutes without intermission.
Private runs in person until April 17, 2022, presented by Mosaic Theater Company performing at the Sprenger Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington DC. General admission tickets are $68 each and can be purchased in line or by calling 202-738-9491. Closed captioned performances are April 9 at 3 p.m., April 9 at 8 p.m., April 14 at 11 a.m., and April 14 at 8 p.m. (includes ASL aftershow).
Private also airs April 6-17. Tickets for the virtual option are $40 for individuals and $70 for groups, available in line. Viewers have 72 hours to watch the show. Subtitles are available.
the Private the program is online here.
COVID safety: All patrons, visitors, and staff visiting the Atlas Performing Arts Center must provide proof of vaccination to be admitted to the venue. Face masks that cover the nose and mouth must be worn at all times, regardless of vaccination status inside the building. See Mosaic Theater Company’s complete COVID safety policies and procedures.
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Written by Mona Pirnot
Directed by Knud Adams
Georgia: Tẹmídayọ Amay
Corbin: Eric Berryman
Jordan: Ben Katz
Abbey: Sophie Schulman
Scenographer: Luciana Stecconi
Lighting designer: Masha Tsimring
Costume designer: Danielle Preston
Sound Designer: Kenny Neal
Prop Designer: Deb Thomas
Director: Hope Villanueva