Categories: Arts Theater

Barry Eitel’s ‘Champagne’ takes on tech

Bay Area playwright Barry Eitel isn’t impressed by tech giants.

To some, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and even Facebook’s recently disgraced Mark Zuckerberg are captains of industry, helping move humanity forward. But to Eitel, a freelance tech reporter, the blind admiration is unwarranted.

“As a tech journalist, you get introduced to this world and meet a lot of people with big personalities and an even bigger savior complex,” Eitel, 30, says. “The attitude is not only are we doing something that’s drastically changing the world, but also we’re getting rich off of it, and we deserve it because we’re literally winning the future. It’s a fascinating delusion, as we’ve seen collectively with the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

With his latest play, “Champagne,” which opens at the Randall Museum Thursday, Eitel (head writer for San Francisco productions of the sprawling, interactive site-specific show “The Speakeasy” in 2014 and 2016) escorts audiences into a world of narcissistic delusion and greed.

In the show, a production presented by the local playwright collective 6NewPlays, a party at a Pacific Heights mansion celebrating the closing of a funding round for a new social network startup called Chatwick is modeled after Facebook and Twitter.

But the festivities, which include an impromptu fan dance from the 19th-century ballet “Don Quixote” and a team-building mindfulness drumming circle that builds into a powerful climax, are interrupted.

Information emerges that the company’s venture capitalists support extremist groups abroad, its data mining practices have been used to push opioid ads to its users, and its founder wrote an anti-diversity memo.

Then things really go off the rails.

Although “Champagne” echoes recent real-life dramas — unscrupulous Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s downfall, ex-Google engineer James Damore’s memo calling women engineers inferior to their male counterparts, and Facebook’s mishandling of user data in what’s known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal — Eitel says he started his writing project about the clash between Silicon Valley’s high ideals and the realities of capitalism back in 2013.

“I wrote the play to dig underneath the sheen of this idea of tech genius and great men,” Eitel says. “There’s definitely a mystical element to the idea of founders, but to be one of those ruthless people, I don’t know if you can be great and good, and I want people to think about that. Silicon Valley is still capitalism, and it’s brutal.”

IF YOU GO
Champagne
Presented by 6NewPlays
Where: Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes July 15
Tickets: $20
Contact: www.brownpapertickets.com

Quentin Quick
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Quentin Quick

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