Sketches of THE NETHER by Aaron Krolikowski. See more images at thesketchbookreporter.com.
As a devoted fan of all things futuristic and chrome plated, I felt a fit of glee rising in me upon reading a synopsis of InterAct Theatre Company’s latest production, THE NETHER—Jennifer Haley’s Sci-Fi detective drama set in a futuristic dystopia. My heart soared while visions of Blade Runner danced in my head—science fiction on stage at long last.
However, my elation was punctuated with a footnote. InterAct’s official write up for THE NETHER, offers viewers this warning
BE ADVISED: Themes in THE NETHER may be disturbing for some viewers—including themes of sexual violence and abuse against children.
Perplexed? Yes. Intrigued? Yes. Worried? A little.
In THE NETHER’s proposed future trajectory the internet has become a sprawling crime-scape known as the nether. Criminals can now inject themselves into this lawless virtual reality and bask in the vast anonymity of the web. These cyber criminals are hunted by a specialized task force, headed up by Detective Morris (Bi Jean Ngo).
Morris is assigned to investigate a particularly insidious corner of the nether known as The Hideaway—a twisted child- abusing safe space created by the talented Mr. Sims (Greg Wood). Wood is devilish as the Cult leader, proprietor, and creator of the Hideaway. He made my skin crawl in that uniquely queasy, Hannibal Lecter kind-of a way.
In the interrogation seat next to Sims is Mr. Doyle (Tim Moyer). Doyle is a frequent guest at The Hideaway and Sims’s most faithful disciple. Doyle is a mess, racked with guilt and filled with contempt for a world that just doesn’t get him. Moyer is spot on in his portrayal of the misguided sicko.
Unfortunately these interrogation scenes were brief and never really heated up as they were continually interrupted by flashbacks to life at the Hideaway, pre-interrogation. The effect is a set of artificial exchanges. In particular, the Sims-Morris back-and-forth felt as if the actors were attempting to shove tension down our throats in lieu of a simmering battle of wits—Agent Starling and Dr. Lecter, this is not.
The flashbacks themselves, however, were a welcomed respite from the torturously overacted interrogation scenes, thanks in large part to director Seth Rozin’s clever depth of field approach and Emi Branes-Huff, who plays Iris—the frolicking, hollow idea of a little girl who guides users through the Hideaway. Branes-Huff’s talents outshine the adults on stage with her in every scene she is in.
Lastly, we have Mr. Woodnut (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen). Woodnut is an uptight square being led through the Hideaway by Iris. Through their interactions we learn about the savage nature of the Hideaway and the cruelty that lurks beneath the surface of their friendly interface.
His transformation from aghast newb into fledgling pedophile was as phony as the tulips in Iris’s garden. His relationship with Iris is integral to the audience’s understanding of this world—how a seemingly normal person might succumb to their darkest desires. THE NETHER misses a huge opportunity in failing to develop their interacts.
I initially imagined this play as Phillip K. Dick meets Lolita, however, THE NETHER was neither. I was disappointed—a victim of my own desire, not unlike Mr. Woodnut. This play did teach me something though: leave your expectations at home.