How does Corruption, the new play by J.T. Rogers and directed by Bartlett Sher, differ from their previous LCT collaboration, Oslo? For one thing, said Sher during a recent rehearsal, Corruption began as a film script, whereas Oslo began as a play and became a feature film. 

“Years ago,” Sher said, “we did a reading of the Corruption film script in London, where the story takes place. Last year’s writers’ strike allowed Rogers to return to Corruption.” 

Another difference between Oslo and Corruption: the use of technology to tell the story. “Oslo, Sher explained, ‘takes place in the early 1990s and Corruption a decade ago. So by that time we have Iphones and Blackberries. And because Corruption involves media and television, we are making use of things like live video, projection, multiple screens and live cameras.”

Sher believes that our saturation in technology makes it easier to tell a story as multifarious as that of Corruption. “I think audiences have been changed by smartphones and by streaming. They can take in many more realities than they used to.”

This new reality, Sher continued, has altered not only audiences but performers. “Because of phones we now have what I call 21st-century acting. Actors have become adept at being in a scene where they’re texting somebody and tweeting something while they are carrying on a live conversation.” 

Having explored what makes Oslo and Corruption different (Rogers and Sher’s first LCT collaboration was Blood and Gifts, in 2013), Sher and I discussed their similarities. “Both are history plays on a massive scale. Corruption, especially, feels like a history play because it has tremendous quickness. Both dramas use an ensemble to tell massive stories. They put me in mind of Shared Experience” – a British theater company, founded in 1975, by Mike Alfreds – “which uses a small company to tell the stories contained in long novels.”

Both Oslo and Corruption put powerful, and in some cases, well-known individuals onstage. But their characters’ motivations are not necessarily the same. “In Oslo,” Sher said, “people are trying to negotiate what they want in terms of cultural or religious or territorial matters. In Corruption, we have the interlocking elites of government and finance and media driven by class and wealth.” Their interaction, Sher explained, is a terrific subject for the stage.

Such a subject, Sher continued, reminds us that “the biggest question theater has to address right now is: what is our shared narrative? One of the upsetting things we’re facing is that the only narrative that seems to prevail is: who has the most money?”

But lest Corruption audiences think they’re in for an evening of non-stop debate about distressing topics, Sher is quick to add: “The play may tackle serious subjects but it’s also wicked and bold and a lot of fun.”

Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.