Review: In ‘Right to be Forgotten’ at Raven Theatre, a past mistake is always right there

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As favored playwriting in the American theater increasingly has coalesced around the graduates of a few, elite academic programs, it has started to feel like almost every new play is saying much the same institutionally sanctioned thing. These are not exactly the halcyon days of a diversity of ideological viewpoints. Nor are these the golden years of writers advocating for the forgiveness for past sins.

And thus Sharyn Rothstein’s gutsy “Right to be Forgotten,” which has been very shrewdly cast and honestly staged at the Raven Theatre by the capable young director Sarah Gitenstein, comes as an incisive and sharp-toothed relief.

Here is the premise. The nerdy Derril Lark (Adam Shalzi) is pursuing a doctorate in literature and hoping to have a few dates as he does so. But he’s haunted by something that happened when he was 17 years old: he become obsessed with a schoolmate, Eve Selinsky (Jamila Tyler), and followed her around to the point where he was tagged as a stalker. His behavior as a minor was chronicled on a blog, which became widely read, and then amplified on social media to the point that, even a decade later, Lark feels his life is not worth living. When he meets a potential girlfriend, Sarita Imari (Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez) for a first date, he knows that she will just go home and Google him. And that, he worries, will be that, even if he has both apologized for and learned from what he once did.

More interestingly, yet, he also has been forgiven, or so he believes, by Eve herself.

I don’t need to add that many people find themselves on one side or another on this situation. In the play, the human dilemma faced by Derril and Eve is subsumed by a high-stakes legal fight between a lobbyist representing Big Tech (played, unstintingly, by Lucy Carapetyan) and a crusading if scattered attorney (played by Susaan Jamshidi) who realizes that Derril is sympathetic enough to be an ideal test-case when it comes to fighting back against the ability of these companies to wash their hands of any responsibility for what their posts or search results are doing to people’s lives.

Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez and Adam Shalzi in

Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez and Adam Shalzi in “Right to be Forgotten” at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow / HANDOUT)

I’d characterize the piece as pretty even handed in how it deals with those issues, even as it also cleverly functions as a tense, engrossing legal thriller. It’s rather like David Mamet’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for “The Verdict” combined with the plot to the musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” but with far more attention to the point of view of women.

And this is a zesty staging: Gitenstein knows how to use her minimal set and large amount of space to inject varying levels of stress and tension. Everything feels very much in the moment. No one at this show is likely to be bored.

There are several striking performances in this uniformly well-acted production (Raven is now an Equity-affiliated theater), including Jamshidi’s cynical lawyer and Shalzi’s complex version of a nebbish but resilient character. The toughest and least loquacious assignment, though, was handed to Tyler and this hugely talented young performer offers a truly knockout performance filled with the kind of rich subtext and feeling that so often falls aside in plot-driven dramas such as this one.

The big question of the play, of course, is right there in the title. It’s hard to think of a question more salient at the present moment, or more worth your time when it comes to listening to what these artists have to say.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Review: “Right to be Forgotten” (3.5 stars)

When: Through March 26

Where: Raven Theatre East Stage, 6157 N. Clark St.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Tickets: $40 at 773-338-2177 and

Adam Shalzi and Jamila Tyler in

Adam Shalzi and Jamila Tyler in “Right to be Forgotten” at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow / HANDOUT)

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