Is it possible to live outside of consequences? Can virtual reality offer a safe place to act out our darkest fantasies with no negative consequences to ourselves or others? Is living in cyberspace a viable possibility? If images become reality in the physical realm, is that any different than creating images that become reality in the virtual realm, and if not, then why try to control them? What moral and ethical standards should be, or for that matter, can be applied to the virtual world? And who is to apply them?
Questions, questions, questions. These and others are explored, but not necessarily answered in The Nether, a futuristic mystery/drama by Jennifer Haley now playing at Road Less Traveled Theater. The Nether is the next iteration of the Internet, capable of creating realms not possible today. It also means the bottom, the lowest, and the underground, which suggests what goes on in the darker realms, where light cannot penetrate.
While this play is an intellectual exercise in what cyberspace ultimately means for humanity, it is also a story and a mystery inhabited by real people. They are real, aren’t they? Some? All? What exactly is the nature of reality? Hmmm.
We meet Detective Morris (Eve Everette) questioning Sims (Steve Jakiel) in a sparse ultra-modern interrogation room, centered between two raised platforms – a Victorian living room and bedroom. Who is Sims and why is he being questioned? And what is her motivation? Who employs her? We also meet a man named Doyle (Dave Marciniak) who is being interrogated and asked to give up what he knows about Sims. Then there is Iris (Sabrina Kahwaty), the sweet little Victorian girl and Woodnut (Patrick Cameron), who is smitten with her. How are these characters connected? What happens in The Hideaway realm, and why is it of such importance to Detective Morris?
Dave Marciniak as the tortured Doyle and Steve Jakiel as the furious Sims play their roles with great intensity and passion; Marciniak in pathetic desperation, Jakiel in narcissistic surety. Both are completely convincing as old men trying to hold onto what they believe is the only thing left to them that makes life worth living. They are both excellent as they parry back and forth with the cold, dispassionate Morris, played with stern determination by Eve Everette.
Sabrina Kahwaty, with her sausage curls, sweet smiles, and little-girl twirling about, captures the essence of an innocent, happy nine-year-old as she plays her Victrola in her little bedroom, and flirts in her child-like way with Papa (Steve Jakiel). And then there is the hesitant and somewhat confused Woodnut, played as a charming and shy Victorian gentleman by Patrick Cameron.
Direction is by Katie Mallinson. Set Design is by Dyan Burlingame; Sound Design by Eric Burlingame; Lighting Design by John Rickus; and Costume Design by Maura Simmonds-Price. Ms. Mallinson has integrated these well-designed elements to create a world where past and future co-exist as people struggle to keep up with changes that go beyond anything previously known or experienced by humanity.
The Nether is a rather grim but fascinating tale of one possible future as we delve further into the cyberworld that is our creation, but hopefully not our undoing.