Published in L.A. WeeklyJennifer Haley sets much of her new play, The Nether, in an elaborate virtual reality — think Second Life, where you wander about as your chosen avatar, but a hyped-up version that allows you to see and feel the experience happening around you.
It's a fantasy world that shares a striking similarity with one portrayed in a buzzed-about film that also opened last week: Spring Breakers. Like The Nether, the film shows characters trapped in a life of drab buildings and sexual repression who escape to a realm of decadence, ruled by a man with a one-word name, sometimes crossing ethical and legal boundaries along the way. While Spring Breakers has more of a knowing smirk — you won't see girls in bathing suits and ski masks holding guns and dancing to Britney Spears at the Kirk Douglas Theatre — both engage the question of whether to indulge our innermost urges, sexual and otherwise.
Its ability to dovetail with the movie of the moment is part of what makes The Nether such a rare gem. Big-budget theater rarely has this kind of hip factor and hardly ever addresses issues in cutting-edge technology with as much sophistication as we see here. Plus, it's not every day that the elite L.A. theater company (Center Theatre Group) offers the world premiere of a play by an L.A. playwright performed by L.A. actors and shaped by L.A. designers. All of this is cause for celebration — making it easy to ignore the fact that this thought-provoking work, in its current form, does not ultimately offer enough of an affecting emotional ride.