×

Legit Review: ‘The Nether’

Like the hard-core radical voyeurs in Jennifer Haley’s terrific sci-fi play “The Nether,” you won’t want to leave the Hideaway, that site on a futuristic Internet that caters to men in search of Victorian children. Nor will you want to leave the Kirk Douglas Theater, which gave Haley’s play its world premiere. Voyeurism is the future, Haley tells us, and it’s already here. Great science-fiction is always more about the present than it is what’s to come.

Detective Morris (Jeanne Syquia) interrogates the creator of the Hideway, a self-admitted pedophile named Sims (Robert Joy), whose client Doyle (Dakin Matthews), a 65-year-old science teacher, also ends up being questioned about his activities on the site. In her opening scenes, Haley deftly handles the exposition and lingo: “the Nether,” the Internet of the future; “shades,” people who go on life-support to live in the Nether; “in-world banishment,” restricted use of the Nether. There’s no opening scroll a la “The Blade Runner” to give us the backstory or definitions, but Haley makes it work.

“The Nether” is a difficult play to review; it’s filled with so many twists and turns and surprises — and that’s just Adrian. W. Jones’ magnificent multitiered turntable set! Like the first time I saw “Psycho” or “The Heiress” or “The Crying Game,” I’m delighted to have experienced “The Nether” having known next to nothing about it.

Even before Haley takes us to the Hideway, Morris’ interrogations of Sims and Doyle fascinate. Who’s more despised in contempo culture than a pedophile? These heated conversations, however, are really about creativity and the limits of imagination (and ultimately the nature of love) but foremost, Haley’s characters are talking about art and the theater, although that prosaic term is never mentioned in this future world. How different is our watching “The Nether” at the Kirk Douglas from Sims and Doyle going to the Hideaway? Or Lewis Carroll writing “Alice in Wonderland” or Vladimir Nabokov “Lolita”? It’s different, as well as the same.

Haley does take us to the Hideaway, a remarkable Victorian house complete with a little girl named Iris, played by the remarkable Brighid Fleming, who’s a deadringer for Kirsten Dunst in “Interview With the Vampire.” Iris is creepily compliant and has a way of blanking out whenever a new client, Woodnut (Adam Haas Hunter), mentions “shades” or “the Nether.” She’s ersatz Victorian, but Victorian just the same.

Of course, no one at the Hideaway is whom they appear to be on the surface. The only exception is the proprietor Sims, and even he doesn’t know who Iris and Woodnut really are. Sims, however, does know to put down his interrogator: “Do you mean to tell me you’ve never fucked an elf?!”

Neel Keller directs a superb ensemble.

Theater companies with fewer resources than the Center Theater Group shouldn’t shy away from staging Haley’s play. Scrims and platforms could be subbed for that great Victorian house. Then again, impresarios might have to wait in line. This sci-fi winner looks to have a very big commercial production in its near future.

(Kirk Douglas Theater, Culver City; 131 seats; $50 top)

A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in one act by Jennifer Haley. Directed by Neel Keller. Set, Adrian W. Jones; costumes, Alex Jaeger; lighting, Christopher Kuhl; sound, John Zalewski. Opened and reviewed March 24, 2013. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

With: Brighid Fleming, Adam Haas Hunter, Robert Joy, Dakin Matthews, Jeanne Syquia.

Popular on Variety

Legit Review: 'The Nether'

More Legit

  • A Christmas Carol review

    Broadway Review: 'A Christmas Carol'

    Those expecting a traditional take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday perennial may be in for a shock at the new Broadway version of “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least they might be terribly perplexed by this dour production, whose additions only subtract from the potency of the transformative tale. While there have been many adaptations [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • Jonathan Groff

    Listen: Jonathan Groff Knows He's a Spitter

    If you’ve seen “Little Shop of Horrors” — the starry revival headlined by Jonathan Groff in a small Off Broadway theater — you probably noticed that Groff spits a lot when he speaks onstage. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s been a spitter as long as he can remember, but “Little Shop” [...]

  • Key Largo

    L.A. Theater Review: Andy Garcia in 'Key Largo'

    Would “Casablanca” make a good play? Guess what: It was first produced on stage as “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” How about “Key Largo,” the black-and-white Bogie-and-Bacall vehicle in which a handful of misfits find themselves trapped in a South Florida hotel while a hurricane rages outside? In fact, the 1948 John Huston film was adapted [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

  • Touching the Void review

    West End Review: 'Touching the Void'

    It shouldn’t work. Attempting to make effective theatre out of scaling a mountain, facing disaster thousands of feet up in the freezing cold and enduring a drawn-out facedown with death is surely a preposterous idea. Yet that is exactly what playwright David Grieg and director Tom Morris and his ideally meshed creative team have done. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content