Jennifer Haley’s 75-minute mystery-drama “The Nether” presents an ever-timely debate over whether a criminal act committed by an avatar in a virtual world is punishable in the real world, especially as the boundaries between the real world and virtual worlds seem to be collapsing.
“The Nether” is set in a dystopian future where trees are extinct and the Internet has evolved to the point of offering an alternate reality known as “The Nether” that some prefer to the real world. In fact, you can apparently go on life support and stay permanently in “The Nether.”
The play begins with an uncomfortable backroom interrogation conducted by a young female surveillance agent (Merritt Wever) of a cryptic older male (Frank Wood), who turns out to be the creator of an unrestricted virtual playground where people, for a price, can enact their darkest fantasies.
In between the questioning, we shift to a picturesque, early-20th-century virtual setting, where a gentleman caller (Ben Rosenfield) plays children’s games with a well-dressed young girl (Sophia Anne Caruso). But why is the girl offering a deadly weapon to the man? What’s really going on or being offered?
Eventually, the pieces fall into place and the masks come off, and it is revealed who played what part in the alternate world. And in a chilling counterpoint, a character asks whether providing an outlet for living out forbidden acts may actually be a way to protect those in the real world.
Under Anne Kaufman’s focused direction, “The Nether” may be too disturbing for some. But for those willing to take the ride, it proves to be a provocative drama that asks questions that some of us would probably prefer to not think about.
If you go: “The Nether” plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through March 15. 121 Christopher St., mcctheater.org.