Welcome to the Nether, a look into the not-too-far future, of an online world, a utopia to roam and spend time and pleasure without consequence. In the Nether’s total sensory immersion, users can simply log in, choose a persona, and indulge in whatever you desire. Though during an investigation of a particularly sinister realm of the Nether, a young detective becomes obsessed and convoluted the deeper and darker she goes.
. . . a story that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater. One of the most original plays I’ve seen.
“The Nether,” written by Jennifer Haley, and winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, explores the fascination of the world of the Internet, how it’s grown and consumed our way of learning, thinking, and even feeling. Coupled with the ever pressing issue of pedophilia while exploring the disturbed minds of the predators, imaginations come to life in this virtual world with an in-your-face realism that is as disturbing as it is provocative.
The play opens in an interrogation room, Detective Morris (Eve Everette) harshly questioning a middle-aged man, Mr. Sims (aka Papa), who remains stubborn and elusive. He is being detained, for what the audience pieces together as the story continues. Detective Morris has evidence that Mr. Sims is the creator of the Hideaway, a secret realm in the Nether for older people to come and act on sexual and violent fantasies of little girls. In Sims’ (Steve Jakiel) defense, nothing heinous is being committed. It’s all online, the girls aren’t real, and isn’t it safer for pedophiles to embrace who they are in the world of virtual reality?
The way these characters speak, how they defend themselves and how they break, is truly remarkable writing and acting, for you start to sympathize with these men being interrogated. Mr. Doyle (Dave Marciniak) is the second man Morris questions throughout the story, a man who constantly goes to Sims’ Hideaway and refuses to give up information about him. Morris seems to go in circles for most of the time spent with these men… admitted pedophiles but only in their imagination.
Steve Jakiel gives a stellar performance as Mr. Sims, in that I felt myself cringe whenever he was on stage, sinking into my seat. Jakiel’s subtle villainous stares and mannerisms together with his jovial and guiltless behavior speaks volumes on how real life pedophiles lure their victims and their sympathizers. By the end I was confused and angry with myself for even considering that what these men accused Detective Morris of (shaming them and telling them their love was farce), were at least a little worthy of understanding.
Though Morris, as we find out, isn’t the cool-headed, hard talking detective she at first presents herself to be. As the interrogations continue, her own darkness comes to light, as well as a past she can’t keep from conflicting with the case. I don’t mean to be vague, but I absolutely can’t give away too much detail, the ending is a twist I was not expecting. Eve Everette as Detective Morris was the surprise of the show, taking her character’s hits and misses with authentic emotion and conviction that nearly left me with whiplash.
The lights and stage setup is immersive in the cold, stone walls of the interrogation room, and inside the realm of the Hideaway itself, floors and windows shining with colors of activity. The small stage presents an ambiance for a futuristic sci-fi crime drama that isn’t cheesy or over-done. Perhaps it’s easy to think a world like this could exist, a world devoid of organic human emotion, chosen instead to live virtually, because we are already so close to it. Epic props to director Katie Mallinson for taking such an unsettling, sensitive topic and presenting it so fiercely and ruthlessly.
“The Nether” is a story that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater. One of the most original plays I’ve seen. There is so much to discuss: the future of technology, the intangible value of human life, the touchy debate over pedophilia (and why it’s being debated at all) and, surprisingly, human affection.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Strong language and adult themes.
“The Nether” runs until February 11th, 2018 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here.