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Welcome to the Nether — a network of virtual reality realms. Plug in. Choose an identity. Indulge your every whim.
But can you really have a world without consequences?
That’s one of the questions Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre explores in its production of critically acclaimed sci-fi crime drama “The Nether” by Jennifer Haley, which opens this weekend.
“It’s a very intense production driven by incredible attention to artistry and craft, from the acting to the script to the production values,” said Tiffany Ana Lopez, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “The subject matter is very bold and provocative, bordering on disturbing — by design.”
In this near-future thriller, the internet has evolved into The Nether, a virtual space complete with sensory immersion. A young detective discovers The Hideaway, a realm in the Nether that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment. Her mission to apprehend the creator of “The Hideaway” leads to a tense interrogation of the darkest corners of the human imagination.
At The Hideaway, Mr. Sims, a self-confessed pedophile, welcomes guests to a Victorian home where they spend time with virtual children. The children are avatars — adults in the real world.
“This play deals specifically with pedophilia but it’s also asking bigger questions about what happens when we go online,” said Mary Townsend, who plays the detective. “What lines do we draw and what’s right or wrong when things are virtual versus when they’re real?”
Lopez says the play addresses violation of boundaries, both emotional and physical.
“The play touches on themes and presents scenes that can be triggering for those of us who have had experiences where our boundaries have been violated,” she said. “The play takes us into an arena where we become very conscious of the gray areas of boundaries and how they can be violated.”
Lopez says while seeing the show may be difficult for some, the “playwright wants to provoke us to think about our role as witnesses and have a conversation about public accountability.”
William Partlan, the director of the play and associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, said the themes are “particularly cogent and relevant to our current world.”
“The play takes place in a world not so far in the future from our own, where climate change has taken its toll on the real world to the degree that poplar trees are hard to find and clothes made from cotton would be a very expensive item,” he said. “In fact, even as we rehearsed, major hurricanes and other natural disasters were taking place, and we read articles about a corporation deciding to put microchips into the hands of its employees so they log on without having to do anything to identify themselves.”
He said that while the essence of the play is disturbing, it’s in the service of a powerful piece of theater.
“It’s the kind of show that asks lots of questions that are worth asking — and answers none of them. It should send our audience out into the world with lots of questions and lots of things to think about. As a piece of theater, that’s a really good thing to do.”
J. Casalduero says these tough questions and the playwright’s intelligent reflections are exactly why he wanted to play the role of Mr. Sims.
“Every step forward humanity has ever taken has been outside of some sort of comfort zone.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 22.
Where: Lyceum Theatre, ASU's Tempe campus.
Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.