Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Nether
San Francisco Playhouse
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Jersey Boys, Satchmo at the Waldorf and Gem of the Ocean

Josh Schell and Carmen Steele
Photo by Jessica Palopoli
San Francisco Playhouse is presenting Jennifer Haley's smart sci-fi thriller The Nether, and for 90 minutes I was held spellbound by this drama that looks into the dystopian future. Director Bill English has assembled five superb actors to present this part bureaucratic cop thriller, part evocation of the muddy world of the Internet. This play has all the fascination of a whodunit.

The Nether is set in the later years of the 21st century. Civilization has evolved into a virtual reality world where you can live out your very make-believe dreams in complete secrecy. The Internet is now called the Nether. Many people are heading to imaginary places, especially if they are unhappy and afraid because they are not being treated fairly.

A young detective uncovers a menacing brand of entertainment called the "Hideaway" and she sends an investigator to the site to find out just what is going on. There are some astounding revelations as the plot develops, exploring the moral and psychological suggestions of human relationships in a progressively technological age.

Bill English directs this slick production with a brilliant cast. Carmen Steele (alternating with Matilda Holtz) is a standout the role of nine-year-old Iris. Her doll-face, accentuated by big curls and Victorian dress, shifts from squeals of delight to frozen stares when "the rules" are violated. Ruibo Qian gives an impressive performance as Detective Morris who believes that the Nether should be policed and those committing crimes there should be arrested. She gives an inflexible and relentless performance. Warren David Keith splendidly portrays Sims, who operates the Hideaway and says, "Where's the actual harm? It's an opportunity to live outside of consequence." Louis Parnell is outstanding as professor and family man Doyle who is involved in the Hideaway. Rounding out the interesting cast is Josh Schell as the man of mystery. He is exceptional in the role.

The interesting, cleverly conceived scenic design is by Nina Ball, who has effectively assembled a rotating, life-size, colorful Victoria dollhouse along with a cold monochromatic futuristic interrogation room. This is further delineated by the excellent costume design by Brooke Jennings. She provides beautiful ascots, jackets, and frilly Victorian costumes for the Hideaway scenes.

Bottom line: If we are not in a world where digital life can replace life itself, maybe we're not that far from it, so the questions raised take on a whole new dimension.

The Nether plays at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, 2nd floor of the Kensington Park Hotel, through March 5th, 2016. For tickets can call 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next is Andrew Hinderaker's Colossal opening on March 19th.

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