Washburn’s ‘The Nether’ talks virtual morality

Dylan McManis

Washburn’s Spring production of “The Nether” will chill you. The story depicts an investigation of child pornography in a futuristic world where anyone can log into the internet and experience another “Realm” anonymously.

“The Nether” takes place in a sci-fi world where the Nether is the term for a collection of virtual reality Realms. People can even own and visit each other’s customized Realms. At one point in the play, it is even mentioned that it’s odd for someone not to have been in a fantasy video game.

Sex and pornography is a lucrative trade in the Nether and dictates a lot of what most users do with their time. “The Hideaway” is the name of a Realm owned by Papa, and apparently is able to portray the feeling of sex as well as, if not better than, real life. There, patrons sexually abuse children and slay them afterwards to avoid attachment. “The Hideaway” lures people in with the idea of being free of society’s rules and what it deems to be wrong.

Alex Laughlin portrays Sims, better known as Papa, and he portrays his character extremely well. Everything from the mannerisms to the diction fit what we imagine the character to be. When he needs to be serious, Laughlin brings exactly what is needed to the table. His character openly admits to his disturbing nature as a pedophile, and Laughlin takes those lines and makes you believe in them. While the argument is rightfully unsettling, a deep impression will certainly made.

Grace Foiles portrays Agent Morris, a very abrupt character, who seems to fit a generic role in the beginning. However, Agent Morris’s character is what helps differentiate this play from other crime investigation stories. The plot twists involving Foiles’s character are complex and strongly performed. Foiles brings out the emotion necessary to the character.

Zach Powers plays Doyle, an elderly middle school teacher frequent guest of The Hideaway. While initially withdrawn, Doyle’s rationalization for his perversion is thoughtfully fleshed out. Powers is a strong actor. He takes aspects of the character, such as a stutter, and makes them feel real and believable.

Justine Frakes portrays Iris, a little girl in “The Hideaway” that the majority of the story focuses on. Despite her height, thanks to a strong performance and the right costuming, Frakes plays a believable child and was one of the strong performances of the production. This is a freshman to keep your eyes on.

Finally, Michael Anschutz brings to life Woodnut, an agent of the Nether corrupted by The Hideaway and especially the charms of Iris. Anschutz brings dynamic energy to the character. As the story progresses, his character goes through an unsettling transformation and the trickiest character development. Anschutz fills the role in a way I don’t think any of the other actors in this show could have.

The show was strong on a technical level as well. The lighting team never missing a cue, well-planned stage design and meticulous blocking showed obvious care from the director and backstage crew.

The show will be performed for its final weekend in the Neese-Gray Theater Feb. 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m., as well as Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are free with student IDs.

Rating: 5/5 stars