If art has the freedom to display human foibles in the extreme, the "ick" factor of Jennifer Haley's play The Nether, the MCC production that opened this week at the Lucille Lortel theater is through the roof. On first view, the stage is a somber gray, an interrogation room where an investigator named Morris (Merritt Wever) pushes middle aged men to near tears questioning their online languishing in a virtual paradise called The Hideaway. By the time doors open onto sunlit verdant gardens, and the baby pink of a child's bedroom in this quick 80 minute tour de force, the suggestion of edenic innocence is as welcome to the audience as this splendid, if non-existent place is to Mr. Sims (Frank Wood) and Mr. Doyle (Peter Friedman). Morris demands to know the server, information that the men are loathe to deliver, lest they never see "Iris" again.
Iris? Iris (Sophia Anne Caruso) is a 9-year old seductress in The Hideaway, cleverly costumed (by Jessica Pabst) in pinafore and knee highs with cascading blond curls like the classic illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The association with this famous pedophile is apt, as we see Iris begin to work her charms on a new guest, Mr. Woodnut (Ben Rosenfield), who, like us, doesn't quite know what he's gotten himself into.
But this play pushes fantasy to another level, cleverly imagining the alternate places where our web fascination can lead. Of course, the more remote The Hideaway seems in possibilities, the closer its images of a lost bliss really are. This is a terrific play, impeccably acted under Anne Kauffman's fine direction, especially by the young girl. I took my daughter to see it, and, rather than being repulsed at the violence suggested to innocence, we are still debating the issues of desire and heartbreaking love, happy to keep this vision of human potential as technology advances at the safe remove of The Nether's brilliant talk.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.