Thursday night, when we were introduced to Jason Hammond, almost no one in the audience had heard of his brother Jeremy—I know because we were asked and there was a show of hands.
Friday morning, Jeremy, a Chicagoan, was on the front page of the Tribune. The story, by Jason Meisner, introduced him as a “cause celebre among anarchists and cyberterrorists for his sophisticated infiltration of government and corporate websites” awaiting sentencing Friday in Manhattan for the “maximum mayhem” (his words) he has sewn.
Jason Hammond sat in on the panel at the Prop Thtr that discussed the play we had just seen there, The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden, which is constructed as a news conference Snowden is giving in Moscow; Natasha, a vamping Russian intelligence agent, passes along to Snowden the questions her smartphone tells her the world most wants answered—boxers or briefs? is one of them—as NSA agent Flenkins hovers, glowering at Snowden and reminding him from time to time he’s a scuzzy traitor. As Natasha and Flenkins soon figure out for themselves, they have a lot more in common with each other than either does with earnest young Snowden.
The play, which originated as an idea that came to the Chicago writer W.C. Turck as he read about Snowden and the NSA and got really steamed, is informative if sporadically didactic, and thank God it is funny too. It doesn’t pretend that Russia and Vladimir Putin are anything but an authoritarian nightmare and a narcissistic strongman, though Natasha does allow that her boss is kind of a hunk. Russia’s a ridiculous place for Snowden to wind up but whistleblowers can’t be choosers—not when they’ve told the people stories about their government that a lot of people wish they didn’t know.
During the discussion that followed the hour-long performance—with Turk, the cast, and the directors as well as Jason Hammond taking part—someone in the audience asserted that a line has to be drawn beyond which our government is entitled to protect its secrets. I spoke up then from my seat in the front row, suggesting that if we mean to locate that line, a good rule of thumb in a democracy is that we know as much about our government as our government knows about us. The play’s point, and Snowden’s, is that the government knows just about everything.
Then again, the idea that the core of our lives is nobody’s business seems to have become a quaint 20th-century conceit that social media have pretty much beehived out of existence. So props to the government for being the last one around to value privacy—even if it’s only its own.
I mention The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden because it’s a labor of love being performed again Friday night at 7:30 PM at the Berger House Mansion (6205 N. Sheridan Road). After that—who knows if it’ll ever get another performance? Thursday turned out to be an interesting way to spend an evening—with serious people who cared enough about government snooping to respond collectively with anger, comedy, and art.