BWW Review: Living life in THE NETHER

Edward Gero and Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey
in "The Nether." Photo by Scott Suchman.

It's been a while since the online virtual world, Second Life, has come up in pop culture, but it is a hard one to forget. I remember so many stories of relationships ending because of the "other woman" (or man) their significant other was with in the game.

Now imagine playing Second Life, but you are virtually immersed into that other world, or in this case, realm. You are transplanted into a realm in which you can feel and live in a way that you didn't think you could in real life. Now you have a space called "The Nether," a play by Jennifer Haley and under the thoughtful direction of Shana Cooper for the current production at Woolly Mammoth.

But the Nether brings new rules. It brings new questions about morals, ethics and the law. Conducting her investigation of the Nether, Detective Morris (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey) brings Sims (Edward Gero) in for questioning. Sims has created a realm called the Hideaway, a place where guests may take part in activity that is highly frowned upon and very much illegal in real life.

This is where Haley brilliantly looks at the fading line between our lives and the internet as we spend so much of our time online.

The cast certainly helped with this. Joining Fernandez-Coffey and Gero were Paul Vincent O'Connor, Tim Getman and Maya Brettell. All of the actors brought strain and questions of their own, since this is a world we are all sort of living in. There was such an obvious sense of hard work and frankness to the actors that was satisfying. I felt like the work they put into it allowed the audience to put the pieces together as I'm sure both Haley and Cooper wanted.

Aside from topic, another challenge the show faced was bringing the audience not only into a police procedural questioning, but also into the Hideaway. They did so through projections, designed by Jared Mezzocchi. The creative team for this show was thorough in every respect. But the heavy use of projections was very much a risk, considering how terrible they can turn out. I was touched by Mezzocchi's work. The way in which the projections melded with the set, the sound, the characters and the emotion on stage was absolutely stunning. Somehow I was as captivated by the world of the Nether as the characters were.

With all this in mind, the team also managed to create a rare experience in the theater: debate. I feel often people are only connected to a show if they feel extreme emotion to one side or the other. In this, I felt like I was watching an argument where I really understood both sides and genuinely didn't know who to agree with. This play was extremely creepy and dark. In the end though, when I expected to feel disgusted, instead I felt reasoned. "The Nether" is a true accomplishment.

But what is so amazing and disturbing about this play though, maybe more than anything else, is it could as easily take place in one hundred years, as it could next week. So be on the lookout.

"The Nether" is playing at Woolly Mammoth through May 1. Visit their website for tickets or call 202.393.3939.

Runtime is about 80 minutes without an intermission.

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From This Author Hannah Menchhoff

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