Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★★★☆ - Delicious
It is the future. Society has found it more amenable to live in a virtual world called The Nether where one may design a personal realm to satisfy desires. But, don’t count out Big Brother; the thought police are there to infiltrate the society you considered safe.
A lobby sign states: ‘Mature audiences only. This play contains sensitive subject matter, which may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.’ Take it to heart. Because Jennifer Haley’s script, developed at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre Center as part of the National Playwrights Conference, explores the more sinister, darker sides of life’s yearnings.
At the outset, Detective Morris (Jamie Carvelli) is determined to find the source of a Nether realm called The Hideaway. It is here where pedophiles happily create a Virtual Reality (VR), ostensibly as a safe alternative. It makes it no less creepy.
But, the production doesn’t disturb us the way it should, because Director Bryan Todd stopped just short of the line, rather than committing to crossing it. It’s an uncomfortable subject, and the audience should be led over the line by the nose.
At the top of the show, Bob Gratrix (Doyle) sits alone, waiting. We’re tuned to every thought, because his sense of fear and discomfort invade every muscle, every expression. Then he loses us, because the trepidation and pent up anxiety aren’t expressed in delivery of dialogue. The pacing is too smooth. There’s no hesitation, because he never questions himself in the face of interrogation. Without giving anything away, Gratrix beautifully transforms in the final, very short scene.
Scott McAdam is Mr. Sims, an ordinary citizen being investigated for creating the pedophile realm where he plays Papa to young girls. McAdam is insouciant, full of gruff denial as he trades accusations with Morris. He blusters with a bit of a smirk and it’s easy to dislike him. It’s when he moves into VR the connection is lost. We want to despise him. Yet we don’t, because McAdam doesn’t change fully. Tone and body language don’t soften enough. Yes, all is created via goggles, but success depends on other players. So, the sickening enticement must still be played out. In the end, as Mr. Sims relents and provides the location of his computer servers, McAdam gives us regret, which transitions well to sorrow as he engages in a final visit.
As Morris, Carvelli, does a fine job in prodding and threatening exposure to family and neighbors to get the information she wants. The greatest thing about her performance is that we are so taken in by her pursuit of justice in the harsh way she browbeats Sims, and Doyle—who she knows has the incriminating information to shut down The Hideaway. Morris wins but loses, too. Carvelli makes the transition with appropriate fits and starts, and the final revelation weighs on her in physicality, as well as vocally.
The real revelation of this production comes in the performance of Aviana Glover as Iris, the object of men’s fantasies. In full Baby Jane attire and blonde ringlets, she’s grounded in the realm. Glover is perfectly creepy as she moves from victim to willing partner to teary-eyed sadness, eliciting a mixture of horror and disbelief. The way she moves around the stage, the vocal tones, are at times very doll-like to remind us she’s a rendered design. She morphs smoothly into the little girl down the street, then into the sexpot who knows she is there for a singular purpose.
Brandon Alan McClenahan as Woodnut, a client of The Hideaway, allows us in far enough to see he’s playing the game for a purpose. He falters, he tries, and falters again. Each attempt to learn what is expected of him in the virtual realm is wrought with indecision. McClenahan shows us delight in success, and uncertainty in failure. What’s excellent in his performance is that he allows us to peek beneath the surface at the right times.
Each technical aspect of the production is seamless. Kim Glover’s costumes and Shannon Bradley’s scenic design, particularly the Virtual Reality set, both with Victorian flair, coupled with lighting by Elizabeth Kline is exceptional. Time, place, and atmosphere are not only assisted by the Original Score by Aaron Guidry, but exquisitely enhanced.
The Virtual Reality of Haley’s script is already forming. Go, get freaked out. It’s your chance to see the dank underbelly of what’s coming.
What: The Nether
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 13