BWW Review: Unsettling THE NETHER at The Gamm
THE NETHER, is a twisted look into a not-so-distant future where the internet becomes an immersive and physical experience. Unexpected reveals keep the plot moving, but the subject matter overall is uncomfortable to say the least. Playwright Jennifer Haley manages to avoid shock for the sake of shock, but this production certainly raises some thorny ethical dilemmas. Director Judith Swift manages to get a little close to taking things too far, but then pull back at the last second leaving the audience grappling with who the real monsters are.
A play of this nature is obviously challenging to pull off without being either so dark it's unwatchable, or laughably over-the-top, but veteran Gamm actors Casey Seymour Kim, Richard Donnelly and Jim O'Brien manage to get the audience on all their sides, even though they're in direct conflict with each other. The Nether itself is a digital world similar to the Matrix, where people can live out their most depraved fantasies without running afoul of the law. Sims/Papa, played by Richard Donnelly is a man who is aware of the legal ramifications of his personal desires and has therefore set up a space in The Nether called The Hideaway where he and people like himself can go and unwind. Detective Morris (Casey Seymour Kim), is determined to get this virtual realm shut down, even though removing Sims' outlet may make him act out his predilections in the real world.
That issue is the big crux of the play--is hurting people in the virtual world the same as in the real world? Is the impact as great even if all players are willing participants? Detective Morris is determined to "fix" the situation, but her motives become much murkier as more things are revealed. There are some almost throwaway lines peppered throughout the dialogue that drive home even further the unsettling inevitability of this world, in particular, "back when The Nether was called the internet".
Other performances by Ally Gower as Iris and Jamie Dufault as Woodnut round out the cast. Gower in particular deserves praise for her high energy performance and effortless charm. She is really the linchpin that makes this play work or not work and she does a fantastic job of making the audience feel weird about liking her so much.
This is a play that really forces people to examine the way we live our lives online and what ethics mean in the digital realm. While it may not be the feel-good play for the ages, it sticks with you and makes you start to re-examine almost every interaction. Like most good sci-fi, it shows events that may seem preposterous and years away, but are likely to manifest much sooner than we could imagine.
*For Mature Audiences Only
THE NETHER runs March 16-26 at The Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket RI. Ticket available at www.gammtheatre.org or by calling 401.723.0440.