Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Avenue Q was right: The Internet is for porn. In Jennifer Haley's darkly futuristic play The Nether, virtual reality has become a playground where adults can explore their most socially unacceptable fantasies, complete with sensations, but (supposedly) without any consequences in the real world. Except for one consequence: In Haley's world, some become so enraptured with their online fantasy lives that they become shades, people who withdraw entirely from human society, hooked up to life support systems, living out the rest of their lives as avatars in their favorite virtual world. The temptation to become a shade is strong; the real world that Haley's characters inhabit has become a place of disappointment, where trees have largely disappeared and childhood education takes place exclusively online.
Haley poses an interesting moral question: Do these amoral virtual playgrounds serve a socially valuable purpose by enabling people to indulge their fantasies without doing harm to actual people? Or do they encourage and validate these pursuits, ultimately damaging the participants as well as the people around them?
The virtual world in question is the Hideaway, a Victorian-style home in which the genteel patriarch Papa encourages his guests to indulge their socially unacceptable desires with under-aged girls, including the charming Iris. The guests, of course, are avatars for the website subscribers; the girlish avatars are played by Papa's employees (the behinders). Papa enforces strict rules for both guests and employees in order to ensure that their identities remain secret; rule violations result in girls being sent off to boarding school.
The continued existence of the Hideaway is threatened, however, when the quasi-law-enforcement agents of The Nether, a future incarnation of the worldwide web, decide to shut it down on moral grounds, and begin a quest for the physical location of the offending server. A minor breach of Papa's rules opens the door for investigators to identify the real person behind Papa. But will the enforcement effort do more damage than the Hideaway itself?
Cockroach Theatre gives Haley's disturbing play a solid production. In a world where nothing is what it appears to be, Scott McAdam gives an outstanding performance as Papa, the surprisingly sympathetic child pornographer. As the virtual victim Iris, Aviana Glover is equally strong; she subtly combines a childish exterior with an adult sensibility that is crucial to the story.
As staged by director Bryan Todd, the world of the Hideaway feels more real and inviting than the sterile world in which the determined interrogator Morris grinds away at her subjects. Jamie Carvelli has yet to find her footing in the difficult role of Morris; she conveys the investigator's zeal without suggesting the human frailties behind that zeal, making her later confessions less than convincing. As Morris's undercover investigator who visits the Hideaway as the avatar Thomas Woodnut, Brandon McClenahan conveys the appropriate degree of ambiguity, moral and otherwise. As Doyle, a brilliant but unfulfilled teacher and longtime Hideaway visitor, Bob Gratrix affectingly portrays the character's withdrawal from human interaction, but almost to a faultDoyle's verbal clashes with Morris occasionally come across as bloodless speeches rather than cries from the heart. In the play's final moments, however, Gratrix is a revelation.
The world of the Hideaway is rendered enticing by Shannon Bradley's vivid scenic design and Kim Glover's nostalgic costumes.
The Cockroach Theatre Company succeeds once again in bringing challenging theatre to the Las Vegas community. Because the subject matter is disturbing, the play is suitable for mature audiences only. It is guaranteed to provoke lively post-theatre discussions.
The Nether continues through March 13, 2016 (Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, and Fridays, March 11, at 8 pm) at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. First Street #110, Las Vegas, NV 89101. For tickets ($20 adults, $16 students, 55+, and military) or further information, visit www.cockroachtheatre.com