BWW Review: THE NETHER Disturbs and Delights at the Alley
the Alley Theatre's production of THE NETHER.
Photo by Lynn Lane.
THE NETHER is a sci-fi crime drama set in the future about Detective Morris who is trying to solve a mystery in a new virtual digital world, THE NETHER. Users can log in, choose an identity, and and act with seemingly no consequences in the real world. But at what point do the actions in THE NETHER become real, and what constitutes as crime in virtual reality?
The play won seven Ovation Awards for Design, Acting, and Playwriting for an Original Play, and was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play. It is now playing at Alley Theatre Through May 29, 2016.
THE NETHER is a chilling tale about how the division between technology and our lives begin to blur, and the ethical dilemmas that result when access to this technology fall into the wrong hands. Engaging performances from an all-star cast, unique character development, notable set and lighting designs, and intricate storytelling had me on the edge of my seat for its 85 minute run time.
Josie de Guzman plays the assertive yet troubled Detective Morris. She plays the role with uncompromising drive. Morris tries to find out the truth about the motives of Sims (John Feltch) and a virtual reality space he created called The Hideaway. There is a connection between him, the young girl (Jemma Kosanke as Iris) that is visited in the Hideaway, and Doyle (Philip Lehl), though, we're not quite sure yet how they are all connected. We are given clues as the story unfolds and begin to see how Morris has sent someone undercover (Chris Hutchison as Woodnut) into the Hideaway to get more information. De Guzman's scenes were earnest by most accounts, save a forced chair-kick moment.
John Feltch plays Sims, the mastermind behind The Hideaway where he and others are allowed to carry out their pedophiliac and homicidal desires with no consequences. Now, don't worry, there is no overt nudity or murder here, however, the topic is disturbing, and they carry a few of these scenes right up until the action is about to occur. Feltch plays Sims as intelligent, confident, and yet deeply disturbed. Sims is, by all accounts, a pedophile with homicidal tendencies. He has supposedly never done anything of this nature with a child, except one close call, but he reveals the moral question: isn't it better to express those tendencies in virtual reality than bring it out in the real world? However, as we soon discover, someone must be inhabiting the virtual body of Iris, and if so, how do these experiences affect her? Feltch is terrifying as Sims. Smart, cunning, and diabolical, he makes you scared to ever encounter him.
Philip Lehl is the intelligent yet feeble Doyle. Doyle wants to permanently cross over into THE NETHER, and Morris aims to find out why. Doyle is done with real life. He is done with his marriage, he knows his kids are old enough to form their own opinions and doesn't mind leaving all of them behind. Lehl, Executive Director at Stark Naked Theatre, has an unmatched talent to take any role and add complexity and depth. He is consistently engaging on stage. We can see the troubled Doyle with his head down, unsure about the world, but determined to make his final move into THE NETHER. Although time skips ahead, then backward, repeatedly, we piece together what is really happening beneath the surface. One of the most interesting changes in character in this play was when Doyle makes a devastating discovery, and then during the final moments of the play- which I will not give away.
Hutchison played the empathizing gentleman avatar, Woodnut. Hutchison plays Woodnut well, and we see the character's conflicted self battling against temptation. One of the most memorable moments is when Woodnut (Hutchison) reluctantly carries an axe as he approaches Iris (Kosanke). Jemma Kosanke plays the innocent, vulnerable, yet highly intelligent avatar, Iris. Kosanke is outstanding as Iris, has powerful stage presence, and provides memorable stage pictures in The Hideaway.
The set was futuristic and dream like. Sharp angles, mirror-like flats, blues, and greens splashed the stage. An entirely different set served as The Hideaway that quietly shifted in from above on a giant moving platform on chains. The Hideaway had minimal crystal-like furnishings, adding to the eeriness, elegance, and elusiveness of THE NETHER. Catch this thriller, that's now playing at the Alley Theatre.
May 6, 2016 - May 29, 2016
BY JENNIFER HALEY
DIRECTED BY GREGORY BOYD AND JAMES BLACK
ADULT CONTENT. EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. SEXUAL THEMES. MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
THE RUN TIME IS APPROXIMATELY 1 HOUR AND 25 MINUTES WITH NO INTERMISSION.
JENNIFER HALEY Playwright
KEVIN RIGDON Scenic Design
JUDITH DOLAN Costume Design
JAYMI LEE SMITH Lighting Design
ROB MILBURN & MICHAEL BODEEN Music Composition & Sound Design
BRANDON WEINBRENNER Assistant Director
BRETT ANDERS Stage Manager
JAMES BLACK Co-Director
GREGORY BOYD Co-Director
JOSIE DE GUZMAN as Morris
JOHN FELTCH as Sims
CHRIS HUTCHISON as Woodnut
JEMMA KOSANKE as Iris
PHILIP LEHL as Doyle