SMUST’s “The Nether” darkly questions “Which I is I?”, Dallas

{“I’m offering a chance to live outside of consequence” – Sims on Hideaway}

By the time the cast took their final bow, my mind was completely blown by the twisted but intensely thought-provoking contemporary moral problems presented in SMU Student Theatre’s (SMUST) latest production, “The Nether.”

Originally written in 2013 by American playwright Jennifer Haley, this psychological thriller has already won numerous awards for its exploration of the dark side of virtual reality and role playing games on the Internet. Set in the – disturbing vague – “near future,” we find ourselves in a world where the Internet has evolved into “the Nether,” a network of virtual realms where people spend as much as 16 hours a day to escape the grim truth of their “in-world,” or real life.

The play opens to an interrogation room where Detective Morris, played by Amber Rossi, grills Sims alias “Papa,” played by Matthew Raetz, for details about Hideaway, a virtual realm whose server he controls and whose rules he created. In its first description, Hideaway sounds like a beautiful, idyllic Victorian house where children in white frocks play in gardens “with wind blowing through the trees” – which we are told are scarcely found at this point in the real world. Mac Welch, portraying first-time visitor Woodnut, marvels at the expert level of sensory detail in the virtual realm, where he claims he can even “smell the garden beneath.”

But our fascination for this Victorian paradise quickly turns to disgust as we discover that the sophisticated fantasy universe, so meticulously created by “Papa” Sims, is intended for members to log in, assured of their anonymity, and have sex with – or axe murder, if they prefer – the beautiful virtual children living in Hideaway.

“I’m offering a chance to live outside of consequence,” defends “Papa” Sims, arguing that no statistics have yet proven that pedophiliac activities can be traced in the real world to members of his virtual realm.

“But there are people out there – Shades – who are choosing to give their bodies to life support and cross over to live in the Nether,” counters Detective Morris.

“Have I done something? Or have I done nothing?” wonders Woodnut, about his actions while in the Nether.

The moral quandary is further complicated by Sims’ assurance to us that the “children” are just avatars played behind the screen by consenting adults.

Sims arguments against Detective Morris’ moral and legal accusations push a rationalist, capitalistic agenda that will urge you to immediate hunt for your Psychology 101 textbook to debate the merits of unleashing one’s dark Freudian Id genre of desires in a manageable environment, by the end of the inventor’s monologue.

The plot thickens as the investigation turns to find the true face behind “Iris,” a young girl in Hideaway played by Lily Manuel, and questions a 65-year-old science teacher named Doyle who is a member, skillfully played by Kent van Dover.

Love, dark desires, and ethical confusion leave the characters pondering “which I is I?” as their avatars in Hideaway and lives in the real-world come to a clash.

Dalton Fowler’s first piece as director will keep you sitting at the edge of your seat, bile rising in your stomach, yet morbidly gripped by “The Nether’s” dark plot. I continue to be awe-inspired by the depth of talent shown by SMU Student Theatre’s actors, and invite everyone to check out their shows.

Catch SMUST’s “The Nether” at its final show TONIGHT, March 26th 2017 at 8PM in Meadows School of Arts, Basement Room #150. Free Admission.

“Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.

My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?”

– “In a Dark Time” by Theodore Rothke


Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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