Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Turning around once more a group of cavaliers suddenly rush into the room and a huge swordfight broke out, with the action coming within a few feet of where I was sitting. It was quite realistic. Ten years ago there was no concept of this kind of technology and one can only imagine what the next ten years will bring in ways of added realism. This technology is at the core of Jennifer Haley's play The Nether now on stage at Dobama Theatre directed by Shannon Sindelar.
Set in the time of "Soon," the Nether is a totally encompassing virtual reality world where people pay money to live out their fantasies in various realms of their choosing. Mr. Sims, aka "Papa" (Matthew Wright) is a quite successful businessman who has developed a Victorian realm with remarkable realism called The Hideaway, complete with the latest in period inventions such as the Victrola. It is a spacious place with large gardens and lawns for exploring. The house is filled with period furniture and stocked with the finest of foods, wines and spirits. Papa lives at the estate with his family of young children that includes his oldest Iris (Calista Zajac). It is all virtual reality. I repeat, it is all virtual reality.
Mr. Sims has been brought in for questioning concerning The Hideaway by the newly formed regulatory agency of the Nether. Detective Morris (Sarah Durn) is following up on rumors that this realm is being used by guests to commit unspeakable crimes against young children. Sim's defense is that it is all virtual reality and no one actually gets harmed. The victims are "resurrected" and the acts take place over and over again. Sims sites that historically, all new technology through the ages has been used for nefarious means, including early photography of nude women, pornographic films at the birth of cinematography, the internet where porn sites are the number one visited, and now The Hideaway, which caters to those who might otherwise commit such acts in the real world.
Sims is allowed to leave the interrogation room as Morris brings in Mr. Doyle (David Peacock), a soon to retire science teacher who has spent an exorbitant amount of time in The Hideaway and who may hold the key to the goings on there. He has put his affairs in order so he can cross over to the realm and become a "Shade," a permanent resident of Sims' virtual world while his real body is looked after and kept alive. Lastly, there is Mr. Woodnut (Joe Pine), who was sent to investigate The Hideaway but has been caught up in its intrigue.
The cast is absolutely brilliant. Matthew Wright as Mr. Sims/Papa is part entrepreneur, part father figure, and part self-admitted deviant. Wright effortlessly glides from character to character with ease. Sarah Durn's Morris is a detective with a secret who plays her cards close to her chest, never giving us a reveal until the end. The unassuming Mr. Doyle, played by David Peacock, carries the heaviest burden of secrets of the entire group. Many know Joe Pine from his work with Ohio Shakespeare Festival. He portrays a guest of The Hideaway who finds himself sucked into the behavior that he finds so abhorrent. The real star of the show is young Calista Zajac as Iris; her portrayal sends chills down the spine.
Special mention must be made of the video projections of T. Paul Lowrey used in the production. Through the windows of the interrogation room and The Hideaway we are treated to a city scape in the former and swaying trees and fluffy floating cloud in the latter. It is masterfully done.
This is a dark play that deals in subject matter of the most horrendous nature. Those who enjoy roller coasters and scary movies will be intrigued, especially by the numerous plot twists at the conclusion.
The Nether, though March 31 2019, at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.dobama.org or by calling 216-932-3396.