By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The obvious danger in a play like this one is that its ideas will create a distance between the audience and its characters — and The Nether doesn't avoid it. It's not that the play ignores emotion; it's that The Nether wants to be, and should be, more than just a play of ideas. These characters have emotional arcs — but their culmination doesn't hit you in the gut. Even detective Morris becomes emotionally invested in the Hideaway, albeit in a way that feels too convenient and unconvincing. Perhaps more finely detailed backstories would help — more passages like the poignant one in which Sims confesses to a salacious encounter that helped motivate his need to escape from real life.
Some smaller factors also detract. Detective Morris' mystery-solving leads to some tightly written scenes and surprising revelations, yet it occasionally becomes too much of a ping-pong match. In these scenes, Sims ably deflects her damnation but often feels too behind the game to be the savvy Fast Company cover subject that he'd be in this imagined future. And the young girl gets a fine portrayal by Fleming, yet the play's coyness in revealing her role in this sexually charged world is a little self-conscious.
The play wants to be, ultimately, about love. Yet perhaps its version of love — between people who are not only far apart in age but who are appearing in bodies sometimes very different from their real-life selves — is one too many degrees removed from even our current technologically mediated incarnation.
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Region: Culver City
A telling moment comes when one character is portrayed by two actors in the same moment — one playing the real person and the other portraying the person's virtual self. It's an entertaining bit of theatricality, but it also inhibits our ability to identify with the character.
What's most impressive about director Neel Keller's production is how it manages to convey ideas about futuristic technology through good old-fashioned stagecraft. Not only is there Jones' arresting set but also Christopher Kuhl's lighting, which at times envelopes the audience much as a virtual world does.
A smaller but equivalent moment is when Woodnut examines his palm after shaking Sims' hand, unable to believe that the Hideaway can feel so real. Such instances suggest a method for powerfully conveying science fiction through theater, an effort that in future drafts or productions of this play, or others, might create a more lasting impression.
THE NETHER | By Jennifer Haley | Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through April 14 | (213) 628-2772 | centertheatregroup.org
Follow the writer on Twitter at @zpincusroth