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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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American Girl Live: An Interview With Laila E. Drew and Shelby Miguel
Please note: Due to the potential of a major winter storm on Saturday, both performances of American Girl Live at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown have been postponed and rescheduled for President’s Day, Monday, February 18 at 2 pm and 5:30 pm. All tickets will be honored on that date. If you cannot attend the new date, please contact the box office at 973-539-8008.
"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in conjunction with TROIKA Entertainment is will present KINKY BOOTS, the smash-hit musical that brings together four-time Tony® Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy® Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony Award-winner for Best Score for KINKY BOOTS), at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City from April 30 until May 5 with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets starting at $35.00.
The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.


It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.






Event calendar
Friday, Jan 18, 2019


MUSIC

John Forster at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Morristown - 7:30pm

David Massengill - Folk Concert @ Christ Congregation Church, Princeton - 8:00pm

SAL "THE VOICE" VALENTINETTI @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

The Elvis Birthday Bash @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

Annie Jr. @ The Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Some Girl(s) @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm







COMEDY

Big Apple Comedy Club @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm


MISC

The Jason Bishop Show to Benefit CASA @ Pfleeger Concert Hall, Rowan University, Glassboro - 7:00pm

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