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HERE Arts Center, New York City

Looking at You
3.0Reviewer's Rating

“I have nothing to hide,” said multiple characters on repeated occasions throughout Looking at You, a “techno-noir opera” that immerses you in a tech company and its dance with surveillance capitalism. So, too, said I when I registered for my free drink fully knowing it was a gimmick to collect my data somehow. I decided that whatever information would make it into the show as a result, it was all part of the experience and posed no real threat to my privacy. Yet when my friend’s (totally public) Facebook profile picture and multiple of my (also public) Instagram photos appeared on one of the many TV screens on the walls, I can’t say it wasn’t unsettling.

Everything about the fictitious company in question, Rix, exudes unsettling from every pore in its quest to be a utopia. One look at the ivy on the walls and ultra-modern metal chairs make it instantly clear that Rix is Silicon Valley pretentiousness at its pinnacle: team bonding outings at spin class, employees who wear matching athleisure sets to work, a boss (Raj, played frenetically by Paul An) that is the human embodiment of five cups of sustainably-sourced coffee with oat milk, and, oh yes, a cutting-edge project: a hot new app that uses an algorithm to find out everything about you and spit out a number that quantifies your desirability as a person.

The (fictitious, thank goodness) app, CheckUOut, is developed by Dorothy (Blythe Gaissert), a talented Rix newbie whose “brilliant” idea and coding talent lets her quickly climb the ranks. There’s only one hitch: a former employee, Ethan Snyder (Brandon Snook), has just been revealed as the whistleblower who exposed a 13-government conspiracy to mine people’s information from large companies. Not that this stops Rix from moving forward with the app. What does hinder things is the actual hitch: Ethan is Dorothy’s boyfriend, putting Dorothy in the age-old dilemma between love and fortune. With, of course, the fate of humanity’s personal data also hanging in the balance. And did I mention that all this plays out as an opera?

 

Looking at You occupies this odd space between “Why is this an opera?” and “I’d feel like I never left the office if it wasn’t an opera.” The show felt surprisingly pedestrian – between the copious corporate jargon in the lyrics, the TVs and tablets bombarding the audience with news of an information leak, and even the talk of the morally dubious sale of personal data, I felt like I could walk into a conference room at my college’s business school and hear the same kind of chatter, if not for the fact that it was sung. That’s what sticks. The performers are on, their voices could occupy a place in the Met Opera, the set successfully transported me to California for two hours. But none of that is exceptionally memorable. What’s memorable is watching your face appear on one of those TV screens as the actors casually sing about espionage and feeling like you’re not just in an immersive show – the show, too, is immersed in you.

Every table has a tablet on it, in which photos and news flashes appear throughout the show, but most of the time it just showed an avatar of a man. It was drawn in such a way that made it seem like he was looking back upon me with pity, as though sorry I was willing to play along. I looked at it and I realized that if nothing else, Looking at You surely made its point: we make our information an easy target, and the only way to escape is to disappear completely. Bleak and evocative of conspiracy theories, but true. You don’t necessarily need this show to understand that truth, but if you’d rather swallow it down with a free drink as it’s belted to you in falsetto, that’s an experience you’ll only get at HERE. Perhaps delete your search history first – but then again, you have nothing to hide, right?

  • Opera
  • Composed by Kamala Sankaram
  • Directed by Kristin Marting
  • Libretto by Rob Handel
  • Cast includes: Paul An, Adrienne Danrich, Blythe Gaissert, Eric McKeever, Mikki Sodergren, Brandon Snook, Jorell Williams
  • HERE Arts Center, New York City
  • Until 21 September 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (USA)

Gillian is studying journalism and theatre at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. She has worked as an intern newspaper reporter in Connecticut. Dancing, writing poetry, and Schmackary’s cookies hold special places in her heart, and she can often be found exploring Central Park or basically anywhere in the city she hasn’t been.

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