Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Nether: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Hello uncomfortable.  Jennifer Haley's "The Nether," having its Bay Area Premiere at San Francisco Playhouse, is brilliant and unique, but it also deals with subject matter guaranteed to make you squirm. 

We're not going to describe the plot -- the action is not chronological and anything we tell you will probably be a spoiler. It's enough to say a virtual world has been developed by Mr. Sims (Warren David Keith) to give an outlet to men to indulge the fantasies that in the real world would have them committed. Their goal is to "live without consequence," and this virtual world, or "The Nether," has been valuable for Mr. Sims in several important ways.

You can't talk about the SFP production without mentioning Nina Ball's brilliant revolving set. We are transported from reality to virtuality and back, as well as from real people to their avatars in the virtual world. It would be hopelessly confusing without these set changes. 

What a cast. The 12 year-old Carmen Steele alternates with Matilda Holtz to play Iris, a role that would be disastrous is not played by a surprisingly mature actor. Louis Parnell is perfect as Mr. Doyle, deeply damaged in the real world and seeking redemption in the other. Ruibo Qian plays the Inspector and Josh Schell is Mr. Woodnut. Don't ask, because we're not going to tell you who they are.

RATINGS:  ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Nether" Four Stars. It intrigues you without letting up for eighty minutes. Virtual worlds exist about which most of us have no idea and the relationship between reality and virtuality has never been more difficult to define. Jennifer Haley logs us in and we're happy to go along for the ride.

"The Nether"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
2d Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through March 5

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