Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Nether

Play #128 - The Nether by Jennifer Haley

This is sort of a cool, unintentional circle of life moment: when I set myself the task at the beginning of 2015 to read one play for every day (a goal of which I have fallen quite short), I started with Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley. So it seems quite fitting that I would finish the year with another play by the same writer.

The Nether takes place "soon" in two locations: an interrogation room and an online world called The Hideaway. In the world of this play, human existence has shifted in large part to the online realm. The real world still exists, but most functions - jobs, education, etc. - happen online. There are even people who make the decision to cross over permanently into the online realm, living offline via life support as their online lives become their real lives. Haley gives us Detective Morris who is investigating Mr. Sims for the online realm that he has created called The Hideaway. It is a place that replicates an 1800s home, and that gives people the opportunity to live without consequences - in particular, as they might pertain to certain proclivities towards children. Morris argues that the behaviors perpetrated there are unacceptable, whereas Sims claims that, since even the "children" are actually adults in the real world, there is no real impropriety.

The play is, like Neighborhood 3, an unsettling investigation of the implications of the intersection of real and virtual life. The twists and turns leave the audience wondering themselves where the boundaries of these worlds - and of human connection - truly lie. There are parts of this play that would, doubtless, be difficult to watch. It's interesting that Haley asks that the actress who plays the virtual girl actually be or seem pre-pubescent, rather than an adult actress playing young. While this might be upsetting for some, Haley argues that the presence of a young performer on stage will assure the audience that the production itself will not go over the line with this character - that the character will never be in real danger. Whereas, with an adult actor, that assumption might not be the case. I suppose she's right, but I also can't help imagining the squirming in our collective seats that might unfold. Luckily, I don't have to imagine! Woolly Mammoth is staging this show in April! I can't wait to see how the drained, technologically centered "real" world and the lush, sensuous "fake" world come to life on stage!

And though I didn't make it to 365... and though I didn't get a chance to do much reading of novels... I would say that 128 plays is not all that shabby!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Play #127 - Race by David Mamet

First things first: I've clearly fallen far afield from the whole "read a play a day" goal I started the year with. But still... 127 isn't bad!

Okay - full disclosure: I hate David Mamet. But I have this title for a paper that I need to write about him... and the title is too good... so I HAVE to write the paper... even if it means reading a bunch of this gruff, cynical, testosterone. Honestly, the only thing worse would be if I were writing a paper about Neil Labute. Seriously... ugh.

Anyway... I read Race. The story revolves around two male lawyers and their female assistant/intern, as they try to decide whether to take on the defense of a middle aged white man who is accused of raping a young black woman. And, of course, the circumstances surrounding the case just get uglier and uglier with each passing moment. It seems that Charles, the defendant, came to them after leaving his previous firm, in no small part because Jack and Henry - the partners at this new firm - are white and black respectively. They are not blind to the racial complexities of the case, and they spend a lot of time trying to come up with exactly the right legal tactic to get Charles off the hook. Much of this conversation is complicated by the presence of their assistant Susan who is, herself, a young black woman. The discussions are characteristically crass and cruel as they reflect on the dark, dirty world we live in. There is a manufactured ambiguity about the ending that doesn't seem entirely successful to me, as I don't think the play has built in enough benefit of the doubt for us to buy into the uncertainty. And I don't think the social commentary is as incisive as he would like to think it is.

There are a few scenes and monologues that, for exactly the right, sharp-edged person, could be useful. But overall, I feel like I would be turned off listening to anyone say these things in an audition room or in a theatre.