Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Right to Be Forgotten
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Melody Butiu and John Austin
Photo by Margot Schulman
Right to Be Forgotten, Sharyn Rothstein's play receiving its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, examines the conflict between two rights both thought to be inviolable in the United States—the right to privacy and the right to free speech—in the context of the internet. If some of the plotting seems formulaic, the dramatic intensity is genuine and the issues highly topical.

The intimate Kogod Cradle, with no bad seats, is a perfect venue for this production: a space that is both warmly embracing and isolated from the world outside. Director Seema Sueko stages her actors like chess pieces on Paige Hathaway's clean-lined, two-level set, illuminated by Shawn Duan's propulsive, undulating projections.

The term "right to be forgotten" refers to laws passed in the European Union and elsewhere that allow individuals to request that search engines remove from their indexes links to websites that contain what the petitioners consider inaccurate information about themselves. The websites are not removed but are less likely to turn up in a search with this process.

Rothstein's main character, Derril Link (John Austin), is a socially awkward young man with a Ph.D. in comparative literature, looking for a job in academia and tentatively dating a young woman (Shubhangi Kuchibhotla). Since he knows that these days Google is a go-to source for people to learn more about their acquaintances, he admits that his online presence is problematic. Specifically, 10 years earlier while he was in high school, he stalked a female classmate (he says he was besotted with her and didn't realize how creepy his behavior was) and a blogger picked up and embellished the story.

Looking to clean the slate, Derril seeks out Marta Lee (Melody Butiu), a wisecracking lawyer with an interest in privacy issues, who decides to make his experience a test case for right-to-be-forgotten laws in the United States. Eventually, a state attorney general (Edward O'Blenis), a tech lobbyist and former co-worker of Marta's (Rachel Felstein), and Derril's high school classmate (Guadalupe Campos) are all caught up in the vortex, and no one is immune from manipulation of the facts and outright blackmail.

Austin convinces with a vague, almost otherworldly presence: his difficulty in relating to people comes through in his formal speech and his way of conveying his thoughts through the words of authors he likes. Butiu provides the forward motion, inhabiting a character who says exactly what she's thinking and, at one point, bursts into song. (Derril has been so busy studying Soviet poets of the Stalin era that he doesn't know who Barbra Streisand is.)

Arena Stage
Right to Be Forgotten
October 11th - November 10th, 2019
By Sharyn Rothstein
Derril Lark: John Austin
Marta Lee: Melody Butiu
Eve Selinsky: Guadalupe Campos
Annie Zahirovic: Rachel Felstein
Sarita Imari: Shubhangi Kuchibhotla
Alvaro Santos: Edward O'Blenis
Directed by Seema Sueko
Kogod Cradle, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

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