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BWW Reviews: THE NETHER Considers Crimes of Pedophilic Thought

Violent and sexist video games... pornography that provides an underage fantasy without using actual underage children... Some will tell you that such forms of entertainment will offer a safe outlet for those who might otherwise act on their urges in real life. Others will say they normalize such urges and enhance a culture where they're more likely to be acted upon. And then there's the line of reasoning that you can't put people in jail for just their private thoughts.

Frank Wood and Merritt Wever (Photo: Jenny Anderson)

In Jennifer Haley's, futuristic drama, The Nether, an advanced version of the Internet makes it possible for pedophiles to act out their fantasies in a virtual world without children being involved. That doesn't negate the horrific creepiness of it all, but it does bring up the question of whether or not an offense is being committed.

In a dark and tense production staged with hard-boiled directness by Anne Kauffman, The Nether is an appropriately troubling and discomforting play, asking those who would object to government-controlled morality to defend their stance under the most vile circumstances.

Merritt Wever plays the no-nonsense Detective Morris, questioning a fellow named Sims (Frank Wood) about a cyber-business he runs called The Hideaway. In an elegant Victorian setting, The Hideaway allows customers to have lifelike interaction with virtual children, whose actions and words are controlled by adults, without fear of consequences.

Ben Rosenfield and Sophia Anne Caruso (Photo: Jenny Anderson)

In scenes of The Hideaway, 13-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso plays a virtual 9-year-old named Iris, who entertains an undercover investigator played by Ben Rosenfield. Thankfully, there is nothing explicitly shown, but Haley's skillful writing and Caruso's controlled performance has Iris maintaining her innocence while reminding her customer that he is free to act upon any impulses.

As is often the case in such dramas, Morris has personal reasons to be emotionally invested in this matter, despite the arguments by Sims and one of his customers (Peter Friedman) that their virtual acts of pedophilia help keep children safe.

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