The Nether: A Thriller Set in the Future and a Virtual Reality Playground

Josie de Guzman has done a lot of acting, on Broadway (Tony nominations for Guys and Dolls and West Side Story) and in Houston's Alley Theatre (The Other Place, All My Sons, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike), but she has never played a detective before.

Now she has that chance in the Alley production of  playwright Jennifer Haley's The Nether, a story set in a future world that is a dull, pale version of our own. 

“When the world has become sterile, there are hardly any trees left. The sensory world of our sounds, our smells, our tastes have decreased,” says Guzman, back in Houston to take on the role of police detective Morris.

To escape this world from time to time, people go on the Internet – now called the nether – where they can experience all the sights and sounds the world has lost. As well as commit virtual crimes. Which raises the question: Are crimes committed in a virtual realm real crimes or just stains on your soul? Or just something to be tossed aside as entertainment with no lasting meaning?

Or as detective Morris begins asking: Are there deeds done in a digital world that cross over into reality?

"It's important because it brings up the danger that lies in spending so much time online that you neglect having a life, a relationship in the real world," de Guzman says. "The play is like a detective story; you're following it and it jumps times. You really have to pay attention to understand what's going on."

She also found the cross-gender aspect of the plot fascinating; people's avatars don't necessarily correspond to their own gender.  Making it even more interesting to de Guzman is that "every character has flaws." 

Co-directed by Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd and James Black, the one-act thriller, with a running time of about 100 minutes, promises a lot of twists and turns (Haley dislikes predictable police procedurals, de Guzman says), so best to have your wits about you when you take this one in.

Designed for a mature audience, The Nether opens May 11 and runs through May 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $26-$75.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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