Review: Hackerlove (The Cabaret Company/Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

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The Cabaret Company takes a look at gender politics in Hackerlove playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto

Anyone who follows the news will be at least a little familiar with the Wikileaks scandal, which took over the headlines back in 2010. It made a reappearance a few weeks ago, when Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning got permission from the U.S. Military to legally change her name to reflect her gender identity. So it was perfect timing for the saga to make its way to the stage, in the form of Hackerlove, written and directed by Sky Gilbert and put on by The Cabaret Company.

Hackerlove is a two-man show that imagines the interactions between Manning and Adrian Lamo, the hacker who reported Manning’s actions to the American government. The two never met in person, so the entire play is based on Gilbert’s creative interpretation of how the two might have interacted.

Hackerlove is a series of these imagined encounters. I saw a lot of news about the repercussions of Manning’s actions, so it was refreshing to think about the actual people behind the headlines. Hackerlove is a thought-provoking investigation of the ways in which gender, identity and morality collide both in real life and online.

The set (by Andy Moro) consists of Chelsea’s cell, an angled cube in the centre of the room. At first I felt like the set was a bit too small for the size of the space, but I can see how it was versatile for the purposes of the show. It let the actors navigate the crowded space of the cell, and gave greater weight to the times that they interacted outside of its confines.

The cell is angled in such a way that text and video can be projected on the walls. Considering the online nature of Chelsea and Adrian’s relationship, it was necessary for the audience to “watch” their chat conversations, and the projections worked perfectly. These projected chats led to some of my favourite moments in the show, as the characters were still onstage for these typed-out interactions. It was creepily familiar to watch the portrayal of real life emotions and energy that we invest into online conversations.

Kawa Ada, who plays Chelsea Manning, is convincing and vulnerable as the imprisoned soldier. Throughout the show, Manning faces a number of crises – about her identity, about her involvement with Wikileaks, and about her feelings for Adrian – and Ada gave each of these the right amount of emotional weight.

Nick Green, as the prickly, reserved Adrian Lamo, was remarkably consistent in his performance. Through Green, we see Lamo as a man who has trouble interacting with other people, and the calculated way in which he does so when forced. Most of the show’s comedic moments were a result of Green’s cutting, deliberate responses to Manning’s advances.

My friend Rachel felt that a few of the imagined encounters were a bit unnecessary. There was, for example, a sex scene that didn’t have any clear anchoring in the plot of the show, and she felt it was a bit gratuitous. Without giving anything away, there is a bit of audience interaction (which I normally hate). We couldn’t really agree on why it was included, but we still enjoyed it.

If you’re a fan of gender politics – or politics in general – Hackerlove is definitely worth checking out. It delves into the different labels that we use to define our gender, sexuality, and online identities. It considers the power of personal interactions to affect events far beyond our control. And while the show’s interactions might be imaginary, the importance of these debates in the Internet Age are anything but.

Details:

  • Hackerlove is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) through May 11, 2014.
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm.
  • Ticket prices range from $21-$30, with PWYC on Sundays, discounts for Under 30/Arts Workers, and $20 rush tickets for evening performances.
  • Tickets are available online, over the phone at 416-975-8555, or in-person at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

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