Mar 5, 2019
by Alexa Chipman
Science fiction is a rare theater genre. In playwright Jennifer Haley’s near future setting, children go to school in virtual reality and “shades” spend more time online than with their families. The neglected planet with its vice-like rules has propelled humanity to yearn for a life entirely based online, instead of dealing with harsh reality. The artificially created Nether is a place to live out fantasies, isn’t it?
This play explores the natural progression of our current obsession with online gaming and internet dependence, with thought-provoking phrasing and intelligent discourse. Does a lack of consequences erase the meaning of existence? Is virtual reality a “Wild West” where no laws should apply? If there are adults interacting with each other behind the visual avatars of children, is it still an act of pedophilia or just consensual roleplay? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed, even within the imagination? Haley delves straight into the uncomfortable topics of pornography and free speech.
It sounds like a fascinating story, but unfortunately ‘The Nether’ is weighed down by a pedantic first act that drags through extended scenes between a stilted detective and her detainees. It falls prey to the classic science fiction blunder of attempting to give too much information before the audience cares enough about the characters to enjoy it. Detective Morris (Leila Rosa) has a good reason for her odd behavior, which is revealed later, but Argo Thompson’s direction is confusing to a first-time audience; it simply looks like Rosa’s acting is flawed.
Staying clear of spoilers is crucial, because the second act takes off with a bang and doesn’t stop. The shocking reveals are exhilarating, proving that this genre can work effectively onstage. Its stumbling introduction is completely forgotten in a passionate frenzy of outstanding ensemble chemistry, especially between Papa (Chris Schloemp) and Doyle (David L. Yen) who share an unexpected moment of tenderness.
Thompson’s set design of comfortable Victoriana and a stark console environment is intriguing and gives the illusion of a larger stage. What truly entranced the audience was a real-time series of projections within the futuristic environment, designed by Schloemp, like the surface of a touch-screen. Characters slide documents back and forth and activate login screens through stagecraft magic.
As Iris (Lana Spring) suggests, “it’s okay to forget who you think you are, and discover who you might be.” Despite a tedious opening, this is an utterly unique play that is compelling in its relevance. It looks forward to what we might become as a society, showing multiple perspectives, and allows you as the audience to decide what is right or wrong within The Nether.
Presented by Left Edge Theatre through March 24, 2019
Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $25 general, $40 VIP (reserved seating)
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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