A woman detective dressed in black paces around a bare table in a sterile interrogation room. She grills a suspect about his sexual crimes against young girls. But this is no ordinary inquest. The offenses probed by the Investigation Unit of The Nether were committed in a virtual world and the victims aren’t real people. They’re programmed creations that exist only on the Internet site called The Hideaway.
Jennifer Haley’s daring sci-fi crime drama opened February 5 at Reno’s Good Luck Macbeth Theatre. The 80-minute, no intermission play is quite simply a riveting piece from a thoughtful scribe on the writing team of Netflix’s thriller, “Hemlock Grove.” Eric Damon Smith traveled from Chicago to direct this futuristic tale of ethics and questionable liaisons on the Internet, and his experience and professionalism are evident in this thought-provoking production.
Kate Atack plays Detective Morris, who is investigating The Hideway and the website’s creator, Sims (Jesse James Ziegler). The repartée between these two fine actors is compelling as they engage in heated exchanges about what constitutes criminal behavior with images that exist only on computer servers. Haley further examines Internet moral dilemmas with the character of Doyle (Scott Rankin), a retired school teacher who is obsessed with the site where “we can act outside of our bodies” and not hurt others.
This all sounds surreal and creepy and you might feel the urge to take a shower and forget what you just read. Resist the urge, because Haley deftly handles these disturbing issues with skill and sensitivity. And the questions she poses are ones that do need asking. Much has been written about advances in weapon technology without corresponding ethical advances. And that is precisely what Haley tackles vis-à-vis the seamy underbelly of the Web.
Good Luck Macbeth is a small and intimate theater. Yet I am continually amazed at the artistry and inventiveness of their set designs on a diminutive stage. Projections on panels turn a monochrome interrogation room into a cozy library with a sofa then a colorful country garden. The excellent sound and lighting add to the creepy feel of an alternate reality. But what gives the play real impact is the accomplished acting of this fine ensemble cast.
Good Luck Macbeth has a history of delivering intelligent and thought-provoking plays and “The Nether” is the latest in that tradition. I asked Producing Artistic Director Joe Atack what drove their choices and he said: “To be relevant you have to ask the hard questions.” And this powerful production certainly does that. Take it from me, buy, beg or steal a ticket, but you absolutely must not miss this splendid production. I rate it a well-deserved five stars — in the real world.
What: “The Nether”
Where: Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company, 713 S. Virginia, Reno
When: Through Feb. 27
By Galen Watson