In a Feb. 27 letter to the editor of this publication, a theater patron decried one North Bay company for its tendency to program shows with dark themes that portray men and women at their worst. The letter writer went on to suggest attending a then-running show at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre. That patron may want to skip what’s running there now through March 24.
The Nether is playwright Jennifer Haley’s look at a not-too-distant future where the internet has evolved into a virtual realm that is rapidly replacing components of the real world. Students don’t go to schools anymore. Vacationers don’t travel anywhere. They all just “plug in.”
Within the Nether, there’s a deeply hidden place called, appropriately enough, “the Hideaway,” where visitors can indulge in their every whim and lead “a life without consequence,” because it all just happens in the participant’s minds. It’s the invention of a man named Sims (Chris Schloemp) who designed it as a way to deal with his pedophilia. If he can satisfy his urges through avatars created by other consenting adults, is anyone really hurt?
An investigator named Morris (Leila Rosa) seems to think so, and a great deal of the play involves her interrogation of Sims and a weary Hideaway visitor named Doyle (David Yen). The rest of the play takes place in that virtual world, a Victorian home whose main occupant is an 11-year-old girl named Iris (adult Lana Spring). The arrival of a new visitor (Jared N. Wright) brings both worlds crashing down.
“Policing the internet” is a phrase we hear often these days, and Haley takes that thought and runs with it in provocative and challenging ways. I’ve revealed little of the details and direction that this show eventually goes, but enough in the hope that you won’t feel the need, as several audience members did at the performance I attended, to exit at intermission.
I’m not sure why director Argo Thompson inserted that intermission in this originally 80-minute show, but I think it suffers for it. This is a show best experienced in a single, uninterrupted and, yes, uncomfortable sitting.
It’s got a generally strong cast handling very difficult material, though Rosa’s investigator seemed to be channeling Jack Webb at times.
Theater doesn’t get any tougher than The Nether. It’s not for everyone, or maybe anyone, but if you do attend, prepare to be bothered.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½