Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Margin Notes: The Nether

Sophia Anne Caruso and Frank Wood as Iris and Papa.
Photo by Jenny Anderson.
The Nether

Seen on: Saturday, 2/14/15.
My grade: B +.

Plot and Background
Mr. Sims, also known as Papa, is being interrogated by Detective Morris, as to his activities within The Nether (future-language for the internet) - an escape into virtual reality in a world where actual reality is dull, cold, and hard. What seems at first like the persecution of a man with a sophisticated code - his realm is more realistic in sensation and detail than most others - soon turns into an examination of the morality of a world without consequences. Has Sims created a haven for the sexually deviant to act out their worst impulses in a way that harms no one, or is he fostering and awaking impulses in previously healthy individuals? Is what happens in The Nether more real or less than what happens in what's left of the real world?

What I Knew Beforehand
Almost exactly nothing. I knew the director Anne Kauffman, as she was one of my teachers at NYU. That's pretty much it.


Play: This play was fascinating, if only because it kept me internally debating, the entire time and in parallel to watching the narrative unfold, what exactly are the moral lines we need to draw on our behavior online (or as it's called in the near-future, The Nether). This isn't just a question of the fact that we can create entirely fictional personas online - it's about the culpability of what those personas accomplish. If the issue with pedophilia is age of consent, and these children are constructs being controlled by adults well over the age of consent, is there still a violation being perpetrated? And if the answer is no, then the new question is, is Papa's realm not a refuge for people with a mental illness, but an enabling environment that encourages deviant behavior? These questions are not answered definitively by the play itself, but I have a lot of admiration for a play that has me asking these questions, and changing my mind with each new piece of information, the entire performance.

Cast: The cast is somewhat uneven - Frank Wood is the strongest here, adeptly vacillating among various aspects of his persona - the caring father, the self-righteous persecuted programmer, the shameful deviant, the controlling patriarch. Peter Friedman is also profoundly effective as the somewhat pathetic but devoted figure of Doyle, one of Papa's employees and acolytes. I'm not familiar with Merritt Wever's other work and so can't speak as to whether her performance here was a choice or her general style, but it came across rather monotone and without color or vulnerability. The reveals which come later held no shock as a result. Ben Rosenfield and Sophia Anne Caruso's scenes in The Nether had an innocent charm to them, and a natural chemistry that felt more and more uncomfortable (as it should) as the play progressed.

Design: Laura Jellinek's set beautifully illustrated one of Papa's most enticing elements to his realm - whereas what's left of the real world is industrial, greasy steel, grey bricks, and the cold steady hum of distant machinery (lovely work there by Daniel Kluger and Brandon Wolcott as well), Papa's realm, revealed by sliding and rotating doors, is a lush and warm Victorian summer house, full of flowers, birds, oaken doors, wallpaper, phonographs - all things that no longer exist outside The Nether, and which are achieved to a far richer degree here than in other realms.


Running: Now playing at Lucille Lortel Theatre (MCC). Opening February 24, 2015. Closing: March 14, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 1 hour, 15 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Jennifer Haley
Director: Anne Kauffman
Designers: Laura Jellinek (Set), Jessica Pabst (Costume), Ben Stanton (Lighting), Daniel Kluger and Brandon Wolcott (Sound & Original Composition).
Cast: Sophia Anne Caruso, Peter Friedman, Ben Rosenfield, Merritt Wever, Frank Wood.

Ben Rosenfield, Sophia Anne Caruso, and Merritt Wever as Woodnut, Iris,
and Morris. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

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