HACKERLOVE written and directed by Sky Gilbert (Cabaret Company). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). To May 11. $19-$30. 416-975-8555. See listing. Rating: NNN
Hackerlove explores the relationship between Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the U.S. Army intelligence analyst who provided WikiLeaks with a motherlode of classified information in 2010, and Adrian Lamo, the hacker she confided in who alerted the authorities, which led to her incarceration. Themes of trans identity, trust and morality all come into play.
Playwright Sky Gilbert brings Manning (Kawa Ada) and Lamo (Nick Green), who never met in real life, together in a series of "what if?" scenarios. What would happen if Lamo showed up in Manning's cell? What if Lamo hadn't exposed Manning? What if they had sex? In between these hypothetical events, their real online chats about the material Manning was about to make public are projected in real time on two large screens.
It's an odd-couple scenario, with Ada's lonely, friendly, idealistic Manning contrasted with Green's uptight, obsessive, cold and rational Lamo. Gilbert's imagined moments push these qualities to their breaking point to find what might have made Manning confide in Lamo and what Lamo - a convicted hacker - was thinking when he betrayed Manning.
The psychoanalyzing is mostly speculative, but still compelling and plausible. In early scenes, the pairing feels awkward because it's unclear why the impatient, dismissive Lamo even tolerates Manning, but midway in, we've learned enough about them that their tense connection starts to click.
A mid-show audience-interaction interlude is fun but could be better integrated into the production.
The visually striking set designed by Andy Moro, a large cube with two adjoining sides missing, serves as Manning's cell in military prison but doubles as other locations. Projections of text and video onto the cube's back panels work well.
Hackerlove isn't Gilbert's strongest work, but given the continuing leaks of government secrets and the prominence of LGBT people in these events, it's both entertaining and timely.