Playwright Dohrn questions line of privacy in CTC’s ‘Muckrakers’


Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Facebook will have 1 billion users by the end of 2012, according to Within the past two years, the WikiLeaks scandal exploded, hurling hundreds of documented secrets into public Internet space.

After observing both of those trends, playwright Zayd Dohrn questioned what privacy means in the digital age.

“What really started to interest me was the idea of public and private space and what it has become in 2012,” Dohrn said. “How much privacy do we want? What privacy do we want?”

He addressed those questions in his play Muckrakers, which opens at 8 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater and runs through Aug. 4 as one of Chautauqua Theater Company’s New Play Workshop’s Signature Stage Readings. CTC’s weekly Brown Bag, at 12:15 p.m. today in Bratton Theater, will discuss the play.

CTC Resident Director Ethan McSweeny will direct the two-person show, which stars Conservatory member Jessica Savage and guest actor C.J. Wilson. The play aligns with this week’s theme, “Digital Identity.”

Muckrakers follows Mira, a 25-year-old American, and Stephen, a 39-year-old European, in Mira’s apartment as they discuss and discover what kinds of privacy do and do not exist on governmental and personal levels.

The duality of the generational gap related to privacy drew Dohrn to give the characters different ages.

“I teach college students, and I’m always amazed at how they are only a few years younger than I am, but their ideas about privacy are just completely different (and) their ideas about what’s an acceptable level of disclosure,” he said.

Dohrn, a screenwriter and playwright, teaches at Northwestern University and frequently confronts that question with his students. Dohrn does not have a Facebook account, but pictures of him still appear online from friends and family.

“I realize that even though I’m opting out of it, my life is still public in the ways that all of our lives are these days,” Dohrn said.

His play is unsettling, because he wants audience members to leave the theater thinking about those questions of privacy on both a micro and macro level.

“Where do we stop once we start saying that all information should be public and people should not have those kinds of boundaries?” he said.

He chose the two-person format for the play because it emphasizes the idea of the intimate in the spotlight. And though the two are alone, they both communicate on the phone at some point, which demonstrates in the digital world that technology interrupts even one-on-one communication.

Muckrakers marks Dohrn’s second time at Chautauqua. His play Sick debuted in 2008 as part of a previous CTC New Play Workshop. He looks forward to working with CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch and McSweeny again.

“It’s a very odd and interesting hybrid workshop that they do there, where they throw a new play on its feet,” Dohrn said.

The play is put together during the course of three days. It is a small-scale production with all production elements created by the four CTC design fellows. The actors have only those three short days to cultivate a character under McSweeny and Dohrn’s direction.

But Dohrn looks forward to the experience and to improving the play during the rehearsal process and between performances. The intimate relationship he will help cultivate on stage between his two main characters is part of what first drew him to playwriting.

“As a writer, I’m drawn to the interactions between people and the tensions that arise between people and their intimate moments,” he said. “In theater, you can ask really big questions — big political questions about the modern era and human beings — but you ask them in a way that tells a story through very intimate connections.”