Find a complete schedule of play performances and purchase tickets at CATF.org
How will humanity cope with the downsides of relying on cyberspace?
It took only 20 years for the number of Internet users to grow from a few hundred million to 5 billion people. Today, cyberattacks are constant. And because the United States was an early adopter of connected technologies, we are particularly vulnerable.
That is the backdrop for a new play: The Fifth Domain, a cyber espionage thriller that premieres this month at the Contemporary American Theater Festival.
The play’s title refers to the idea that cyberspace is an arena for war and intelligence operations. That may sound like science fiction, but I assure you it is not. In the past decade the U.S. Department of Defense has formed a unified command for cyberspace alongside the other four domains of land, sea, air, and space. China has its ambiguously named “Strategic Support Force.” Russia has considerable cyber capabilities. You get the idea.
The Fifth Domain tells the story of Troy, a cybersecurity analyst who worked at the National Security Agency until his demands for more accountability made things uncomfortable. Jumping to a private-sector job with a government contractor, he becomes a penetration tester (“pen testers” are authorized to hack into systems to find and help fix vulnerabilities). Unfortunately, Troy finds himself at the center of a cyber espionage drama with huge implications for the real world.
The opening scene quickly establishes the high stakes involved. A large-scale disruption of communications systems on the West Coast has caused widespread chaos. Is a cyberattack to blame? What is Troy’s role in all this? Will the bad actor(s) be held accountable? According to playwright Victor Lesniewski, more than anything The Fifth Domain “is a big puzzle.”
The play uses two creative techniques to bring the story to life for the audience. A PowerPoint-type presentation on cybersecurity is used to organize the action and help us keep track of key terms. Large-scale digital projections are used throughout to show the audience what the characters are seeing on their devices.
As a cyber professional myself (I advise organizations on cyber and privacy law and risk), I can attest to the important issues raised by The Fifth Domain’s storyline. Yes, we want the government to defend our national security. But we also want the government to be reasonable and practical — including about what is expected from the private sector and individuals. And for sure we want our privacy to be protected and for there to be strong accountability and oversight over our defenders.
Playwright Lesniewski has the credibility to make this story both compelling and realistic: he combines a graduate degree in theater with technical chops earned at Carnegie-Mellon and practiced in his day job in the intellectual property field. New York-based director Kareem Fahmy (who is also an accomplished playwright) has collaborated with Lesniewski previously and the two bring easy rapport and complementary skills to The Fifth Domain.
Timely and well-informed, The Fifth Domain has the ingredients needed to entertain while helping us think through some of the most challenging issues of our times.
Beyond & Behind the Stage
In addition to The Fifth Domain, the plays for 2022 are Whitelisted by Chisa Hutchinson, (both performed at the Frank Center stage); Babel by Jacqueline Goldfinger and Ushuaia Blue by Caridad Svich (both performed in the Marinoff Theater); and The House of the Negro Insane by Terence Anthony and Sheepdog by Kevin Artique (both performed in the Studio 112 Theater).
Pay-what-you-can preview performances will be presented July 3 through 7. Tickets for these preview performances are only available the day of the performance by calling the box office (681-240-2283). The festival formally opens the weekend of July 8, 9 & 10, with multiple performances of all six plays.
CATF provides many opportunities to engage with the playwrights, cast, and go behind and beyond the stage to ask questions, discuss the issues, and expand the in-theater experience. Schedules and reservations for these free events at CATF.org
CATF in Context – Discussions with stage & technical directors
Lectures – Resident artists share their creative process
Staged Readings – Peek into the evolution of the next new plays
Cabaret – Evening discussions in the courtyard with artists and patrons
Pre-Show Discussions – Prepare yourself for a better understanding of the play
Post-Show Discussions – Unpack and explore the themes of each play
Changeover – Watch the stage transform from one set to another