(photo courtesy: Francis Gacad)
Written by Patrick Chavis
Disclaimer: This review and show covers mature themes.
The Wayward Artist opens its doors to the public for the first time in over a year with possibly one of their most risqué plays to date – The Nether written by Jennifer Haley. One of the play’s themes is pedophilia. I know this is a bridge too far for some, but this is why this play is advertised as a mature show for adults. So, if you’re not 18 and up, don’t come to this show. Wayward Artist’s production of The Nether explores one potentially problematic features of a fully realized virtual world and its philosophical implications through a sci-fi, futuristic lens.
The Nether is sci-i theatre in the tradition of The Twilight Zone, but it hews closer to the more contemporary Black Mirror, a TV show about the adverse effects future technology could have on society. The Nether is a fully immersive virtual world you can log into. While in The Nether, you can act out your wildest fantasies, whether they’re joyful or dark. When Detective Morris, played by Adjovi Alice Koene, discovers something truly horrific going on in this virtual world, she begins investigating the people behind it.
Mauri Anne Smith’s scenic design, in collaboration with Maddie Deckard’s sound and video design, is engaging. Televisions with various images being projected cover the wall on the stage. As you go through the show, the images change in contrast to what happens in the show. On the ceilings of the theatre are branches of trees. There are two tables. One is used mainly for integration scenes and the other for when characters need a strong drink, which you often see in dramas.
The story is told well. Although initially confusing, as things progress, the story threads become increasingly clear. To satisfy an 85-minute run time, the exposition at the beginning of this play feels forced. Exposition is a standard tool for progressing story. There are better ways to go about this, but it gets the job done and lets the audience digest a lot of information quickly. The play is so plot-focused, they forget to focus on the atmosphere around it. So many creative possibilities exist, but they’re not utilized.
It was opening night, which means even in a strong cast, you’ll notice hiccups. This show was not the exception to the rule. Also, the acting from a few specific actors, especially in the early parts of the play, lack a sense of comfort on stage, it does improve as the show progresses. Jacqueline Jade, who plays Iris in this production, pulls off one of the better performances I’ve seen all year. She brought the character alive on stage. The back and forth between her and Wyn Moreno, who plays Papa, is one of the most intense and exciting moments in the play. Moreno is a good casting choice for the character and not only for his acting. His tall, imposing figure in contrast to other the characters adds another dramatic element to the character.
Under the direction of Craig Tyrl, the Wayward Artist put on a surprisingly brave and entertaining production of sc-fi theater that features some of the best performances to come out of Orange County this year.
Nov 12 -21,2021