Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Nether at the Jungle Theater

Stephen Yoakam and Mo Perry in The Nether
Photo by the amazing Dan Norman
I went into The Nether at Jungle Theater knowing nothing about the play or the production.

From the title, I was expecting some sort of spooky Irish drama like those by Conor McPherson (The Veil, The Weir). I left thinking much more of another Irishman, Martin McDonagh and an Englishman, Charlie Brooker, creator of the television series Black Mirror.

Like those creators' works, The Nether presents a dark view of humanity and our relationship to technology. I have struggled for days about how to write about this show. It's short, haunting, beautifully acted, and gorgeously designed. It's thought-provoking, but it's really best not to know too much going into it. And you should go see it.

Written by Jennifer Haley, and directed by Casey Stangl, The Nether premiered in Los Angeles in 2013. Although its subject is the fast-moving world of technology, this play feels brand-new. This play and production are a perfect representation of the Jungle Theater under Sarah Rasmussen, using all of the fabulous skills and craftsmanship of the Jungle on innovative new plays and productions. And it's written and directed by women. Yay!

Here are five things I utterly loved about The Nether.

1. The production and scenic design. Two wildly disparate settings which perfect encapsulate the main conflict of the play. Lighting, set, sound, projections--all exquisitely done. At times claustrophobic, at times jarring, and at other times utterly idyllic.

2. The cast. Stephen Yoakam, Mo Perry, Craig Johnson, Ella Freeburg, Jucoby Johnson. Amazing performers, all. Often the play consists just two actors on stage, as one is undergoing an interrogation, and their faces are projected above the stage, and it's a beautiful master class in subtlety.

3. The cast, part two. In one scene, Stephen Yoakam and Craig Johnson are alone on stage, and I can't think of a time I've seen these two alone on stage together before, which is astonishing. Now I would like them to star together (perhaps attached like Daisy and Violet in Side Show) in everything from now on.

4. The content. Again, no spoilers here--not even a hint. There is a fair amount of disturbing content, but the script and production handle this content so skillfully (and yet straightforwardly) that it's almost less palatable than it would be if it was more overt. The story itself is thought-provoking and relevant, told in a mysterious and enthralling fashion. This show brings up a lot of questions and provides no easy answers--which is rare and delightful.

5. The talkback. The Jungle's Stay Late program features talkbacks with the cast and/or creative. We were fortunate enough to have Stephen Yoakam and Mo Perry talking about their experiences with the play. This play cries out to be discussed, and the audience--who were utterly rapt during the show in a way I seldom see at the theater--were eager to engage in discussion.

Fantastic. Go see it, support the Jungle, discuss it with a friend!