Looking at You
Blythe Gaissert, Brandon Snook et al;Jeff Hudgins (alto saxophone), Edward Rosenberg (tenor saxophone), Josh Sinton (baritone saxophone), Mila Henry (piano)/Samuel McCoy
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0149 (digital only) 86 mins
Billed as ‘equal parts Edward Snowden and Casablanca’, Looking at You is a witty yet deadly serious exploration of the erosion of privacy by tech companies, whose increasing use of digital surveillance has far-reaching social implications.
A newly recruited coder at ‘Rix’, in the fictional Silicon Hills, becomes embroiled in a tech-noir conspiracy when her absent, systems administrator boyfriend turns whistleblower. Initially sceptical, she’s forced to confront reality when her pioneering dating app is corrupted from ‘tool’ to ‘weapon’, the combined threat of surveillance capitalism, invasive government and social media laid bare in a public stripping of personal identity.
With its energetic mix of saxophones, piano and electronics, Kamala Sankaram’s score adroitly combines cabaret with musical theatre, opera and electronic dance music under conductor Samuel McCoy. Set in the company canteen, an able cast – including Blythe Gaissert (Dorothy), Brandon Snook (Ethan), choruses of ‘geeks’ and singing tablet computers – throw themselves with equal enthusiasm into demanding parts and librettist Rob Handel’s toxic work culture.
Sexism and racism; long hours; an insistence on cult-like employee devotion; the exhausting relentlessness of peer pressure are satirised alongside obsessions with artisan coffee and workouts at the company gym. It’s a boisterous, white-knuckle ride punctuated with moments of reflection in which Dorothy and Ethan agonise about their relationship and the moral imperatives tearing them apart. Romance, it seems, is an evergreen ingredient in the murky underworld of homeland security.