Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Nether
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of All the Way

Maya Brettell and Edward Gero
Photo by Scott Suchman
As technology becomes more sophisticated and interactive, users may find themselves dealing with unexpected ethical concerns. The Nether, Jennifer Haley's play now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, questions whether violent acts done in a virtual setting are criminal when both the "perpetrators" and the "victims" are avatars that can't feel pain or guilt.

In Haley's vision, brought to vivid life by director Shana Cooper and five skilled actors, everyday life has become bleak and colorless at an indeterminate time in the future. The Internet has been superseded by the Nether, an online world where users can create their own virtual realms and live in them as avatars. (People who give up the outside world and live in these created realities are called "shades.")

The tension between Sibyl Wickersheimer's austere scenic design and Jared Mezzocchi's sensuous, ever-shifting projection design echoes the themes of the play. The action alternates between a grim interrogation room where Morris (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), a police officer, tries to get answers from a man named Sims (Edward Gero) and the Hideaway, a virtual Victorian mansion where Sims is "Papa" and paying guests experience lush gardens, comforting food and drink, and interactions with Papa's "children" that would get them thrown in prison in the real world.

The use of avatars means that no one in the Hideaway knows who anyone else is, although the player's thoughts and experiences affect the personality of the avatar. Papa senses something odd about new visitor Woodnut (Tim Getman) but can't figure out what, and young resident Iris (Maya Brettell) might be Papa's fantasy or a character in her own right. "It's OK to forget who you think you are and discover who you might be," as Iris tells Woodnut.

Cooper has helped her actors craft multidimensional performances that, by the end of the 80-minute play, bring their characters to resolution if not peace. Gero, by turns autocratic and despondent, and deceptively innocent Brettell make the strongest impressions, but Fernandez-Coffey, Getman, and Paul Vincent O'Connor as an aging visitor to the Hideaway are all heartbreakingly real.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
The Nether
April 4th - May 1st
By Jennifer Haley
Sims/Papa: Edward Gero
Morris: Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey
Woodnut: Tim Getman
Doyle: Paul Vincent O'Connor
Iris: Maya Brettell
Directed by Shana Cooper
641 D St. N.W., Washington , DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or

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