During a time when media content abounds with stories about how the internet is negatively affecting human interaction and making it possible for those who lurk and troll anonymously to engage in destructive behavior, there is no more relevant exploration of that phenomenon than in “The Nether.” Billed a “science fiction drama,” the play by Jennifer Haley that opened Thursday, is now playing at the Phoenix Theatre through Nov. 22.
To call the piece unsettling would be an understatement, but suffice to say, it is definitely not a play for the squeamish or those afraid of going outside their comfort zone. And true to its fearless mission, the Phoenix, through its presentation of “The Nether,” once again displays its penchant for tackling controversial topics, including one of the most taboo—child molestation. The fact that two Indy residents—a fast food national spokesperson and his former employee—have been so much in the news lately for committing that heinous crime, makes the play’s subject matter all the more topical.
“The Nether” is set in 2050. By then the internet has evolved into The Nether, an immense network of virtual realms that users, assuming any identify by adopting avatars, can log into and fulfill any of their desires. One of the main characters, Detective Morris (Sarah McGee), uncovers a troubling realm called the Hideaway and proceeds to interrogate its creator, Sims (Bill Simmons), during which the two engage in a heated discussion about the ethical implications of his use of The Nether to fulfill his client’s desires. Considering his activities abhorrent Morris grills Sims about what she considers his immoral crimes without consequence.
In the interest of not revealing too much about the 80-minute play’s riveting and often suspenseful plot, atombash.com would like to point out that nothing explicit occurs on stage and much is left to the imagination, which, by the way, does not lessen the play’s creepiness. The tension-ridden exchange of ideas that takes place in the heated debate between Morris and Sims makes for gripping drama and compelling food for thought.
Directed by Bryan Fonseca, “The Nether” featured performances notable for the high-caliber acting executed by members of the stellar ensemble. Remarkable was that of Simmons, as the devious Hideaway owner who rationalizes his despicable site in order to mask his feelings of guilt. McGee, who shone in the Phoenix’s 2014 “Cock (The Cock Fight Play),” was also impressive here in her role as the tenacious detective determined to end what she feels is incomprehensibly wrong. Petite Paeton Chavis was thoroughly convincing as innocent Iris, a pre-teen object of desire who inhabits the nefarious virtual realm that exploits her.
Designer Bernie Killian’s set, which combined the stark, forbidding interrogation room and the Disneyesque Victorian Hideaway side by side, is one of the best this reviewer has ever seen in the intimate space that is the Frank & Katrina Basile Theatre. Tom Horan’s sound design superbly captured the essence of the dystopian world in which Haley’s disturbing tale takes place.
Essentially a high-tech, digital detective thriller, “The Nether” is also a cautionary tale. A warning about what the internet could become without regulation, it’s a piece of theatre that forces us to examine our own relationship with technology, personal responsibility and those moral issues that affect us all.
For tickets and information about the Phoenix Theatre’s “The Nether,” call (317) 635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org