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Entertainment & Arts

Critic’s Choice: Implicated in the Internet-stalking tale ‘Need to Know’ at Rogue Machine

The walls have ears in “Need to Know” at Rogue Machine.

In Rogue Machine’s “Need to Know,” Lilly (Corryn Cummins) and Steven (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, right) feel like fish in a bowl, watched by their neighbor (Tim Cummings).

(John Perrin Flynn)

It’s one of the great contradictions of our age: We post personal information all over social media yet freak out whenever we feel our privacy’s being invaded. Google information harvesting! NSA profiling!

Jonathan Caren has tremendous fun with this state of affairs in “Need to Know,” being given its world premiere by Rogue Machine.

New occupants of a New York apartment, Lilly and Steven (Corryn Cummins and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) are young, attractive and playfully affectionate. Their default mode, however, is sarcasm, which kicks up several notches when their next-door neighbor blunders into their unit.

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Nerdy Mark (Tim Cummings) talks nonstop and seems unable to read body language telling him he’s unwelcome. Once he’s gone, the couple grab their smartphones and scour the Internet to learn what they can about him, gleefully mocking what they find.

A noise beyond the wall stops them. Could Mark have heard?

In subsequent encounters, once-ebullient Mark seems sullen, almost menacing. Yet like mice hypnotized by a cat, Lilly and Steven can’t resist telling him the secrets they won’t share on Facebook or even with each other.

Are his intentions benign or ill? Is this a situation comedy or a Hitchcockian thriller?

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Caren, best known for his plot-twisting play “The Recommendation,” keeps surprises and red herrings in constant churn while having a high time with a symbolic pair of fish in a bowl.

Director-about-town Bart DeLorenzo releases the situation’s ample humor while simultaneously building tension, relaxing it, then ratcheting it still higher.

In Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s depiction of the cheek-by-jowl apartments, cutaway walls invite us to be voyeurs, and our amused reaction to the Internet stalking makes stalkers of us all. The lesson: If we don’t want the walls to have ears, we shouldn’t plant information there.

“Need to Know,” Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Mondays. Ends Dec. 13. $30 and $35. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

There’s a “Vertigo” poster decorating the set. I love details like that. Tell me on Twitter @DarylHMiller what you spotted.

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