Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Nether **

After a highly acclaimed London run that included a West End transfer, Jennifer Haley’s mashup of a police procedural and a sci-fi story is now having its New York premiere in an MCC production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. The Nether is what the internet has become in the near future, an online medium where virtual reality is the main attraction. Since trees have disappeared in the real world, even the sight of an online forest can offer comfort. Schools have been largely supplanted by interactive educational games. As on the internet, porn is an important part of The Nether. As the play opens Detective Morris (Merritt Wever) is interviewing Sims (Frank Wood), a man she suspects of operating a virtual realm called The Hideaway, a Victorian estate where avatars of pedophiles can anonymously have their way with children. One issue raised is whether, since the “children” are actually avatars of adults, there is anything immoral about it. The detective is also questioning Doyle (Peter Friedman), a school teacher in his 60’s who frequents The Hideaway, offering him immunity if he will provide evidence to nail Sims. We also meet Woodnut (Ben Rosenfield), an undercover agent sent to gather evidence, and, most notably, Iris (Sophia Anne Caruso), a nine-year old at The Hideaway, much favored both by “guests” and Papa (Sims’s avatar). There are some surprising developments. It all sounds more interesting than it turns out to be. After reading the ecstatic London reviews, I feel that the problem is a deeply flawed production. The set, by Laura Jellinek, concentrates on the drab interrogation room and merely gives us hints of The Hideaway’s charms, whereas in London the scenic design went to great lengths to show its seductive beauty. Another weakness, at least for me, is Wever’s performance, which I found monotonously off-putting. To see Peter Friedman and Frank Wood is, as always, a pleasure. Rosenfield is quite effective and Caruso is amazing. Jessica Pabst's costumes are excellent. Anne Kauffman’s direction did not pull things together for me. A botched opportunity. Most memorable line: “Don’t tell me that you never fucked an elf!” Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

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