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Manbites Dog’s Provocative Presentation of The Nether Is Extremely Well Acted and Well Designed

In the virtual reality of The Nether, Iris (Marleigh Purgar-McDonald) teaches a new game to Woodnut (Lazarus Simmons) (photo Alan Dehmer for Manbites Dog Theater)

In the virtual reality of The Nether, Iris (Marleigh Purgar-McDonald) teaches a new game to Woodnut (Lazarus Simmons) (photos by Alan Dehmer for Manbites Dog Theater)

Manbites Dog Theater’s presentation of The Nether is a dark vision of the future, our near, rapidly approaching future. It is a future in which the Internet has split into various realms where most of us spend our daily lives. At school and work and even at play, most living is done through the new world of “The Nether.”

Even illegal activity, such as pedophilia and the sex trade, thrive in this new world. This is what dramatist Jennifer Haley’s The Nether posits: What kind of morality does this technological future hold, and how will that impact us as human beings?

In just one act — a mere 75 minutes — the Manbites Dog Theater’s production these future visions are played out by an excellent cast on an inventive, changing set. The young detective Morris, played by Caitlin Wells, struts around an older man, detained by her organization, which polices The Nether. Wells exudes a smug sense of superiority during her interrogations. Michael Brocki brings a calming and familiar air to the character of “Papa” where the disturbing parts of the play begin.

“Papa” is not just an average user of The Nether, but an owner of an off-shore computer server that houses a “realm” called The Hideaway, which is an immaculate, virtual-reality simulation of a pristine Victorian house. The inhabitants of this house are perfectly designed Victorian children along with the host, Papa, himself.

It soon becomes apparent why Papa has been called in for questioning, and one of the play’s main questions arises: Can such an amoral safe house of pedophilia be tolerated in this new world if no children are actually harmed? Can real violence increase because fake violence is allowed?

Iris (Marleigh Purgar-McDonald) has an unexpected question for Papa (Michael Brocki) (photo Alan Dehmer)

Iris (Marleigh Purgar-McDonald) has an unexpected question for Papa (Michael Brocki) (photo Alan Dehmer)

Another man, played by Michael Foley, brings the conflict to a more personal level. He has been detained by detective Morris, because he has information on Papa. Foley’s portrayal is touching and endearing, humanizing his character against this disturbing situation.

Lazarus Simmons’ Woodnut, is a convincing first-time user of The Hideaway. His hesitation and marveling make the surroundings more real. His interactions with Iris are both touching and disturbing, in context. Woodnut is the avatar of an investigator sent to research The Hideway, and his identity is a shocking reveal.

Marleigh Purgar-McDonald’s Iris grapples with her changing, unusual world with dexterity and emotional complexity. Playing a little girl who is an avatar, or in-world persona, for another character, is a daunting acting job for anyone. Purgar-McDonald excellently gives us both the innocence of the portrayal and the devastation of the person she actually is. Her youthful joy and adult understanding are both disturbing and brilliant, and bring the play to its dramatic conclusion.

Director Jules Odendahl-James shows us the journey of all these characters through a very precise and thoughtful production; and Sonya Leigh Drum’s set, created with spinning panels, easily transports us from a real-life interrogation to a fanciful virtual world. Ashley Nicole Owen’s period-specific costumes and Joseph Amodei’s subtle and pervasive minimalistic sound ratchet up the intensity and reality of both places.

The Nether at Manbites Dog Theater is extremely well acted and well designed. Its twist will leave you to think about how we express love in our technological age, and in what ways technology can help or hurt us. This thought-provoking production is an excellent regional premiere and should not be missed.

Doyle (Michael Foley) faces tough questions from detective Morris (Caitlin Wells) about his activities in The Nether (photo Alan Dehmer)

Doyle (Michael Foley) faces tough questions from detective Morris (Caitlin Wells) about his activities in The Nether (photo Alan Dehmer)

SECOND OPINION: April 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7922; April 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article70760302.html; April 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-nether/Event?oid=5007710; and March 30th Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM interview with director Jules Odendahl-James and actor Lazarus Simmons, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-33016-permanent-archive/.

Manbites Dog Theater presents THE NETHER 8:15 p.m. April 14-16, 7:30 p.m. April 17, and 8:15 p.m. April 20-23 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

TICKETS: $12 Wednesday/Thursday and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $5 weeknights and $10 weekends for students and $10 weeknights and $18 weekends for seniors 62+.

BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.

SHOW: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2015-16-season/the-nether/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/579169562261226/.

2015-16 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2015-16-season/.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.

BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/about/directions/.

OTHER LINKS:

The Nether (2013 Los Angeles and 2014 West End sci-fi crime drama): http://www.thenetherplay.com/ (official website), http://jenniferhaley.com/tagged/nether (Jennifer Haley’s web page), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/56827/nether-the (Samuel French, Inc.), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nether (Wikipedia).

The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Jennifer Haley (Los Angeles playwright): http://jenniferhaley.com/ (official website), http://newdramatists.org/jennifer-haley (ew Dramatists bio), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Haley (Wikipedia).

Jules Odendahl-James (Durham, NC director): http://forensicimagination.tumblr.com/ (official website), https://advising.duke.edu/jules-odendahl-james (Duke University bio), https://www.facebook.com/jules.odendahljames (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/naturalreadhead (Twitter page).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Diana Cameron McQueen of Raleigh, NC is an actor working in the Triangle area and beyond. She is a lifelong theatergoer, which she credits as her real theater education. She is an alumna of Enloe High School in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). After returning to Raleigh in 2012, she debuted as an actor in the area. McQueen is mostly known for her performances as Vanda in Venus in Fur (2015) at Raleigh Little Theatre and as Queen Elizabeth I in The Lost Colony (2013-14) in Manteo, NC; and she most recently starred as Louise in The Underpants at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh. She’s passionate about and advocates for diversity and representation in media. McQueen lives with two very lovable cats, Odin and Aurelia. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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