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Hiding Out In The Nether

By Gary Wien

originally published: 09/21/2015

Hiding Out In The Nether

Imagine a world in which you could do whatever you wanted, including satisfying every desire, without any consequences?  That’s the premise behind The Nether by Jennifer Haley, which opens the season for Centenary Stage Company in October.

The Nether is an intricate crime drama and a haunting sci-fi thriller set in the year 2050 that explores the consequences of living out private dreams and fantasies.  It’s a time period in which a new virtual wonderland called The Hideaway provides an ultra realistic sensory experience.  Just log in, choose an identity, and indulge your every whim.  But when a young detective uncovers a disturbing brand of entertainment, she triggers a dark battle over technology and human desire.

The play, which was first produced in Los Angeles in 2013, was the winner of the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.  It’s a challenging work that has garnered critical praise, but is not the sort of play that Centenary Stage usually chooses to kick off its season.

“I had a conversation a year ago with another artistic director,” recalled Carl Wallnau, the Artistic Director for Centenary Stage Company.  “We were talking about seasons.  The last thing he said as he got up to leave was, ‘All I know is we’re not giving audiences the kind of plays they deserve.’  And I thought about that.  I think at a certain point you have to run the risk with new work and quality work that asks important questions. You take a chance in hopefully finding an audience and getting your audience to come out.”

This play certainly asks questions of the audience and of society.  The question is not simply whether or not all actions (whether real or virtual) should have consequences, the play raises the issue of whether or not satisfying an appetite in a virtual world (like violence or sexual activities) might awaken an appetite in the real world that did not exist before.  Desire is like a drug.  The more you satisfy it, the more you desire to do it more often, and over time you need to do it longer to get the same satisfying effect.  Will people be able to satisfy their cravings solely in the virtual realm or will their cravings get stronger and stronger?  Cravings were suppressed before because the people knew they were wrong and would lead to consequences.  Does a virtual world like this where anything can happen desensitize people and make their actions more acceptable in the real world?



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“I think there are a lot of moral and ethical questions here,” said Wallnau.  “Do people have control over imagination? Should your imagination be a place where you can experience and do anything and not have somebody monitoring what your fantasy is? Isn’t that what the point of a fantasy is all about?”

Wallnau also brings up the role of theatre, noting that the actors on stage are both real and virtual as they portray characters.  The situation is not unlike a scene in The Nether in which one character states, “We are engaged in consensual role play and what’s wrong with that?”

“Here you are watching a play where actors are playing the characters who are engaged in playing characters — there’s a kind of Pirendello effect in the whole thing,” explained Wallnau.  “There’s a constant sense of disconnect as you’re watching the play, which makes it a meta-theatrical experience even beyond the play itself.  And the play itself is a real “whodunnit.” This is a play that deals with a lot of hot button issues.  It deals with computers and virtual reality as an entity and as a concept.  It deals with people as people and people as avatars.  At the same time, it’s wrapped around a mystery — an investigation that’s filled with twists and surprises.  I remember when I saw it.  It just takes your breath away.  You keep thinking to yourself, ‘I hadn’t even thought of that.’  Yet, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  It’s a brilliantly written play and it lends itself to every kind of production.”

Bob Phillips, the Emmy Award winning designer best known for his work on Sesame Street returns to Centenary Stage to create the set.  He’s retiring after this show, so this will be the last set design of his career.  He’s creating a brilliantly complex set that utilizes sliding panels, screens, and projections to bring virtual worlds to life.

The New York Times once described The Nether as “Imagine an episode of Law & Order: SVU, written by a futurist fiction writer like Ray Bradbury or Iain Banks.”

Wallnau says the closest comparison he can make is the acclaimed British television show Black Mirror, which is available on Netflix.

In the end, Wallnau hopes the audience leaves thinking about the moral and ethical questions presented in the play.  But he also hopes they simply enjoy the ride.  “It’s a mystery with twists and surprises and things that happen that you don’t anticipate happening,” said Wallnau.  “I think it’s very satisfying as a mystery, but also as a play that leaves you with some questions about not only what you’ve just seen but how you feel about what you’ve just seen.”





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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  


Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
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See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.






Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


MUSIC

New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


THEATRE

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm







DANCE

PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


FILM

Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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