THE BASICS: THE NETHER, an in-your-face play by Jennifer Haley, directed by Katie Mallinson, starring Steve Jakiel, Eve Everette, Dave Marciniak, Sabrina Kahwaty, and Patrick Cameron opened January 19 and runs through February 11, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 at the Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl St. (629-3069). www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Submerged in international waters is a computer server which houses a virtual reality experience where you can forget whom you think you are and indulge/discover whom you might be. Or, less loftily, “The Hideaway” is where pedophiles can go to indulge their inclinations with pre-teen girls in a Victorian setting. Harmlessly? That is the question. It’s kiddie porn without real kiddies but the “VR police” want to shut it down. If you like the “Black Mirror” series on Netflix, you will like this play.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Context is critical and I believe that these days we can more easily enter into a discussion of sexual behavior, and especially topics such as pedophilia, if that discussion is managed by women. So, if we are going down that road less traveled, in this year of #metoo and It’s Time, women writers and directors might be our best, most trusted guides.
And right now we have two similar plays up and running. Over at Subversive Theater (255 Great Arrow Avenue), Ms. Kelly Beuth is directing Paula Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, about predatory Uncle Peck and his niece Li’l Bit. And, at Road Less Traveled Productions (500 Pearl Street) Ms. Katie Mallinson is directing Paula Vogel protégé Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER, about VR pedophilia.
(And by the way, this January/February we have a number of other plays directed by women. Over at The Paul Robeson Theatre, Paulette D. Harris is directing Dominique Morisseau’s SKELETON CREW. Lynn Kurdziel-Formato is directing MAMMA MIA! at the Kavinoky; Victoria Perez is directing AN ACT OF GOD at O’Connell & Company; and Betsy Bittar is directing rehearsals of WAY BACK WHEN at the New Phoenix Theatre. I really don’t understand Hollywood’s problem with hiring female directors. Note to Tinseltown: Come to Buffalo, enjoy some real pizza and wings, and scout some serious talent.)
I’m going to be vague in this review because the play packs a punch and it’s better if you don’t see it coming.
NON-SPOILER-ALERT: I’m going to be vague in this review because the play packs a punch and it’s better if you don’t see it coming. The acting is top notch. Eve Everette plays “Morris,” the young, female internet/VR detective whose mission, at least in this play, is to shut down “The Hideaway.” She interrogates its creator, “Sims,” (his VR avatar is “Papa”) played with authority by Steve Jakiel, and one of the “Hideaway” heavy users, “Doyle,” played by David Marciniak. She sends a VR avatar, “Woodnut,” played by Patrick Cameron into “The Hideaway” as her undercover investigator to meet the VR avatar of Doyle’s desire, a pre-teen Victorian era girl named “Iris,” played by Sabrina Kahwaty.
A not-to-be missed production, THE NETHER comes with Road Less Traveled’s signature integrated set/costumes/sound/lights. As the Geico commercials say: “It’s what they do,” they being Dyan Burlingame, Maura Simmonds-Price, Eric Burlingame, and John Rickus.
Up next: DISGRACED by Ayad Akhtar (March 9-31) the intense 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play about Islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-American citizens played out during a dinner party gone very wrong.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!