BWW Review: Crime and Consequence Fuel THE NETHER with a Dynamic Look Into the Ethics of Virtual Reality.
How do you charge a person in the flesh for their actions in a simulation?
Produced by Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre, Jennifer Haley's work shines as a multi-world crime investigation. Fuelled by a naïve detective playing a game of cat-and-mouse with a suspect she just can't seem to get the higher ground on, this procedural drama is brought to life brilliantly by director Peter Pasyk.
As the story progresses, Detective Morris (Katherine Cullen) attempts time and time again to break the truth out of her lead suspect, Sims (David Storch), whose Nether-alibi, Papa, is accused of the operation of an illegal server called The Hideaway where anything goes - so long as guests remain in character with the Victorian-era "rules" he enforces.
Within The Hideaway are a group of children - Papa's children - who are more object than anything. The show presents horrible concepts, including molestation and murder, through the unfeeling eyes of Papa and the disgusted Morris, who play off one another with incredible chemistry. Cullen plays the rookie detective with great sincerity and emotion, despite a few line fumbles.
As the mastermind of the server and business, Storch carries himself with a strict severity, showing tenderness only alongside Iris (Hannah Levinson), one of the children within the server. Contrasting the patriarchal nature of Storch's character, Levinson manages the difficult task of breathing life into the play, only to rip it back out as the young girl who is both Papa's favourite and who catches the eye of an agent - Woodnut (Mark McGrinder), who is investigating the horrors of the server.
Levinson is no stranger to Toronto's theatre scene, and delivers a standout performance in THE NETHER. Her ability to command any scene she sets foot in cements Iris as the central character, and her dynamic with the cast is impressive.
Although Woodnut is limited to flashback scenes, McGrinder offers a steady performance of the agent, once nervous to enter The Hideaway, who quickly befriends Iris. There is a real fear behind Woodnut, and McGrinder does a wonderful job of presenting his uncertainty in his delivery.
Possibly the most intriguing dynamic of the show lies between Morris and Doyle (Robert Persichini), a lead with ties to The Hideaway. Persichini carries Doyle with incredible physicality, and as the questioning continues, the stress of the process is made clear - his back and forth with Cullen manifests in a gripping scene that borders on heartbreaking - and it would be, if the show's characters weren't as horrible as they are.
With a heavy plot and even more complicated philosophical questions dropped throughout, THE NETHER leans on it's staging to separate reality from the artificial. Lighting (Patrick Lavender) is quite possibly the biggest standout apart from the cast - the blinding neon bars against the complete blackness of the small Coal Mine Theatre are minimal and completely perfect. The use of a 'box' stage within the stage for scenes in The Nether is inspired, and the slightly-fake-looking projections (Nick Bottomley) suit the virtual setting well. While the 'real-world' dress of characters is somewhat inconsistent, the Victorian costumes (Michelle Bohn) are soft and light, and work in contrasting the story's dark tones.
With a strong ensemble and dynamic staging, this production of THE NETHER is a harsh look into the worst aspects of technology advancement, and asks an age-old question without an answer: how will we know when we've gone too far?
THE NETHER runs through October 20 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit http://www.coalminetheatre.com/the-nether/