Mar 20, 2017

[Theater] The Nether (Red Turnip Theater)

Red Turnip has certainly developed a reputation for selecting some pretty interesting plays that may not always be big Broadway hits but certainly have something interesting to say. And I do appreciate that discernment when it comes to their show selections and thus the reason they've become a regular part of our theater calendar for the year.

The Nether seemed interesting without knowing too much about the play as it's not often you get productions that tackle science fiction. I don't precisely know why this is the case but there's something about the genre that doesn't necessarily make it the first choice for folks writing plays.

The beauty of science fiction isn't to be found in the big flashy scenes that movies fill with special effects. Instead it's more about how such future worlds are used as a lense to examine our own reality from a different perspective. Thus it uses the alien the make things more familiar.

Synopsis: The Nether is a science fiction crime drama written by Jennifer Haley, a Los Angeles writer with a focus on the ethics of technology. The Red Turnip staging of the show was directed by Ana Abad Santos and staged at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater at Circuit Makati from March 10 to April 9, 2017.

In the near future, we meet Detective Morris (Jenny Jamora) as she begins he questioning session with Sims (Bernardo Bernardo). She's trying to determine where his the server for his virtual realm, The Hideaway, is located. In time it is revealed that this virtual space is being used to indulge in more controversial and potentially illegal interests and Morris is determined to shut Sims down. This interview is juxtaposed against her session with Doyle (Bodjie Pascual), a professor who seems to have information related to Sims that could be essentially to getting the charges to stick.

Beyond these interrogations, the rest of the story is told as a flashback as to what happened at The Hideaway. This is a virtual realm designed to appear like a Victorian homestead and is one of the places in The Nether (formerly known as the Internet) that seems to have found a way to best simulate all the little touches that make things feel real. But The Hideaway's beauty is only meant as a distraction for what dark deeds truly go on there.

What I Liked: At the center of the tale of The Nether is the character of Iris, masterfully played by Alba Berenguer-Testa (alternate: Junyka Santarin). Her portrayal of Iris is just amazing and at times you wonder if she's really an avatar being operated by a adult or perhaps some sort of advanced AI. She is endearing and warm when needed but can quickly shift into a manner that feels cold and somewhat distant without being stereotypically robotic. She surprised both me and Tobie and we really enjoyed her time on stage.

And as you can get from my introduction, I really appreciate the sort of deeper stories one can explore with science fiction and the way this play was crafted clearly shows an understanding of that. The production didn't try to distract you with flashy efforts or crazy costumes in this regard. They managed to convey just enough to remind us that this something happening in the future without cheapening the story.

What Could Have Been Better: The way this play was written was certainly a somewhat heavy-handed attack on pedophiles on the internet. There's just cause for that for sure but the way it translated into the production felt a little clunky at times and I feel it's both a writing challenge and somewhat an acting concern in terms of how such moments were portrayed. It's a lot to juggle on top of the whole science fiction setting and at times the messaging got a little murky.

There were also a lot of odd bits about the direction that were perhaps more annoying that deal breakers, if you get my drift. I don't quite get why moments of Morris reading her notes in the terminal involved slowly looking across the room in a slow pan - was her monitor moving away from her? She also maintains a mostly angry, shouting manner whenever she's onstage thus making her feel quite one note and reducing the impact of the key moments when she really does want to convey anger or when she needs to go in the opposite direction. Bernardo and Pascual both had some great moments on stage but similarly some of their dialog was lost in shouting bits or when drama translated into mumbling.

TL;DR: The Nether is a thought-provoking play that tackles a potentially controversial subject in a manner that is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. But the way this is done is quite beautiful on the whole and thus it's really up to you to determine how to put all the pieces together and decide what you want to take away from this production. Thus the play gets a great 4 possible creepy moments between Iris and the other characters out of a possible 5.

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