Plays are able to explore ideas in a way that is deeply intellectually stimulating like no other theatrical form that I've found can do. The Nether, the latest play to open at the Jungle Theater explores ideas of reality, right vs wrong and identity in what can only be described as a deeply engrossing but also disturbing drama. It takes place in a future that is not too difficult to imagine, the outside (real) world is desolate, there are no trees, and most of day to day activities, work and school, as well as recreational time is spent in the Nether, a virtual reality world internet of sorts that is split up into different realms.
Like the present day internet, there are darker corners of the Nether. One of the central questions that the play asks is if a crime takes place in the Nether is it still a crime if there is no victim and how can you tell if there is a victim at all?
The play switches back and forth between scenes of interrogation of Mr Sims, the creator of one of these realms and well as a user, and scenes in the realm itself. The realm is called the Hideaway, it was created to be a beautiful place that gives its customers a way to play out, as the play calls it, their "proclivities" towards children. The investigator, Detective Morris, is set on trying to understand where reality and virtual life might meet in this dark place. Woodnut the agent undercover in the Hideaway helps in this search, to identify the real people behind the virtual characters.
The scenic design by Lee Savage, is ingenious, the difference between the real world interrogations and the Hideaway in the Nether is stark. The real world dark and ominous, and the Nether filled with light and trees and beautiful things, hiding the truth of the place.
The play twists and turns and I'm still not sure what to make off the conflicts that it brought up. It is not without its issues, but to go any further into them would be to spoil the plot, if you do see it I would be thrilled to talk to you about it. It is a very smart and engaging play. All actors involved give great performances, but Stephen Yoakam and Mo Perry are both frighteningly powerful, their performances are extremely impressive.
The Nether plays at the Jungle Theater until October 15th.
*Photo by Dan Norman