Zayd Dohrn is a playwright with good timing. He wrote the tense two-hander “Muckrakers” with the travails of Julian Assange — including the Australian’s efforts to leak a voluminous number of secret US government documents through the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, as well as the sexual assault charges he later faced — in mind. When the play made its world premiere in 2013 at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, it did so only days after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents related to secret state surveillance.
Dohrn is the son of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, one-time Weather Underground activists — and longtime fugitives from justice, though they eventually evaded jail time — who were thrust into the news in 2008 when Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin described then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s relationship with them as “palling around with terrorists.”
“Muckrakers,” which depicts an evening spent together by an Assange-like figure and a young American activist who defiantly puts to the test her views about total personal transparency, begins performances Saturday at the New Repertory Theatre’s Black Box Theater in Watertown. Dohrn spoke to the Globe by phone from his home in Chicago.
Q. So when you heard about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, did you want to write a play that would dramatize some of the ideas about privacy and state secrets the situation prompted?
A. I wouldn’t put it like that. The idea developed in my mind of a fictional story of people who are ideologically committed to this idea that everything should be open, that we should know everything. With Julian Assange, it’s interesting to me as dramatic irony that someone who made his career out of leaking documents would have his private life so scrutinized — the idea that a 21st-century dissident, who has an ideology and politics that’s about openness and transparency, would find that to be a double-edged sword.
When you write a play that’s inspired by current events, you hope current events won’t outrun you and it won’t seem dated. When the Edward Snowden story broke the week of the world premiere at Barrington Stage, I guess it made the play more topical, but more importantly for me it made it more universal. It became less about Julian Assange and more about a theme that’s going to play out for all of us in the next decade, the idea that we’re coming again and again upon these people who feel they have a mission to expose damaging secrets. It’s fun to have