Sharyn Rothstein’s ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ is a meaty play about a meaty subject

right to be forgotten review


Seth Clayton and Maria Jung co-star in the American Theater Group’s production of “Right to Be Forgotten.”

Sarita and Arthur are on their first date, having coffee at a coffee shop, and they seem to be hitting it off. But then, because it’s going so well, Arthur feels compelled to tell her something.

His name isn’t really Arthur.

Why would someone lie about something like that? The answer leads to the main subject of “Right to Be Forgotten,” the play in which this date is the first scene. Written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan, it was presented by the American Theater Group at the Maurice Levin Theater at JCC MetroWest in West Orange, June 8-10, and also will be at the Sieminski Theater in Basking Ridge, June 15-18.

Arthur’s real name is Derril. And he knows that if Sarita had Googled his full name — Derril Lark — she might not have agreed even to a casual coffee shop date.

Derril — played by Seth Clayton in this production — is in his mid- to late-20s. A decade previously, when he was in high school, he had become romantically obsessed with a classmate, and followed her around to a degree that many people would consider stalking. He never touched her, but he made her feel uncomfortable. His behavior became public knowledge, and through a gossipy blog, and hashtags and memes, his name had become more-or-less synonymous with stalking, in certain circles.

“You’re going to look me up, and it won’t say I was a kid with a crush,” Derril tells Sarita (played by Leela Bassuk). “It will say that I was a kid with a crush who’s violent, who ruined the lives of multiple women, who is everything that’s wrong with men and America. You’re going to see hundred of posts and links that use my name and my face and have nothing to do with me or what I did when I was 17.”

Sarita isn’t sure what to do. Derril swears that the high school incident was a one-time thing, and that he knows it was wrong — “it was creepy, and weird,” he admits. He swears that what she will find online is mostly untrue — lies and exaggerations that spiraled out of control and that he is mortified by.


Maria Jung and Seth Clayton in “Right to Be Forgotten.”

Sarita likes Derril, and he certainly seems harmless. And at least he’s being honest about this. But can she really be sure? Is this a risk worth taking?

Rothstein has bigger things on her mind, though, than just if Derril and Sarita can find love together. She makes “Right to Be Forgotten” — which premiered in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. — a much broader exploration of the right to privacy in the Internet age, though she also fills it with a lot of quirky humor.

Derril has tried to get his past erased from the Internet, but has not been successful. So he enlists a lawyer, Marta (Maria Jung), to help him. The bold and resourceful Marta — who is also a bit of an oddball, breaking out into a Barbra Streisand impersonation, every now and then — realizes that he doesn’t have enough money to take on Big Tech companies. But if she can enlist a politician in the fight, something could get done.

So she approaches state attorney general Alvaro Santos (Zaven Ovian). Santos reluctantly agrees — if they can get the now-adult woman whom Derril pursued in high school to publicly forgive him. Enter Eve (Chelsie Sutherland), who, understandably, is not eager to get involved, and vacillates. (We eventually see the high school incident from her angle, too, which adds perspective, and further complications.)

Fighting against Derril and Marta is Annie (Amanda Kristin Nichols), a cynical and unscrupulous Big Tech lawyer/lobbyist — who happens to be an old friend of Marta’s. AND who happens to be having an affair with the married Alvaro. (That’s one major coincidence too many, in my book.)

Rothstein pumps up the story a bit too much, having Marta easily create a social-media furor over the cause, and making it seem like the press has a rabid interest in it when, in reality, the press would probably not even notice that anything was going on.


Zaven Ovian and Amanda Kristin Nichols in “Right to Be Forgotten.”

Also, she never provides a satisfying answer to the first question that anyone would ask — and is, in fact, the first question that Marta asks. Why doesn’t Derril just change his name?

“My mother called me by this name,” he says. “When you name something, you give it value. When you take that name away, say it doesn’t matter … If I could be anyone, then I could just as easily be no one.” Like I said, unsatisfying.

But “Right to Be Forgotten” — which features stylish, Internet-themed projections and splashes of elegant string music between scenes (set design by Yi-Hsuan Ma, lighting and projection design by Douglas Macur, sound design by Robert A.K. Gonyo) — is quite satisfying in other, more significant ways.

In general, Rothstein does a good job of creating three-dimensional characters while also tackling thorny subject matter. This is a meaty play about a meaty topic. Rothstein doesn’t shy away from legal complexities, and doesn’t provide any easy answers. But the play also has a sweetness at its core, and a touch of goofiness that helps it remain down to earth.

Very few people would behave as Derril did in high school. But due to the power and the randomness of the Internet, any one of us, Rothstein makes us believe, might find ourselves bedeviled by it, too, in some way, at some point in our lives.

After being presented at JCC MetroWest in West Orange, June 8-10, “Right to Be Forgotten” will move to the Sieminski Theater in Basking Ridge for shows at 7:30 p.m. June 15-17, and 2:30 p.m. June 18. Visit


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