Friday, June 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghosts in the Machines

The only things Michael Crichton didn’t envision in 1973 with his dark, sci-fi take on Disney (Frontier/Tomorrow Land) were the internet and virtual reality. WESTWORLD introduced us to a violent theme park with a gun slinging cyborg behind every swinging saloon door. Unfortunately, malfunctions turned the robots against the paying “cowboy” customers… not unlike the velociraptors in JURASIC PARK.

The 2017-18 television version of WESTWORLD blurs the distinctions between humans and androids, so much so that villains can be either. Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER (@ Flat Earth through June 23rd) explores the “deep world,” as in “deep state,” at the thinner edges of the internet (known in centuries to come as the nether). These are secret realms most internet users don’t know even exist.

Like WESTWORLD, Haley’s “hideaway” locale allows customers to indulge their vilest fantasies without consequence, and in person. Haley offers up “Papa’s Realm,” where guests (we observe only men) pay to meet, fondle, even murder a precocious little girl (no little boys) who looks like Alice in Wonderland… an apt choice as Charles Dodgson, A.K.A. Lewis Carroll, loved to surround himself with little girls, taking pictures of them, reading stories to them. Evidently Papa caters only to men. Not to worry, the child tells them, she reanimates immediately after she’s hacked to bits.

In addition to toying with this child, one can, if one is weary of this world, reincarnate (without the carnal component), that is, cross over and take over the little girl’s spirit, thereby existing forever. This is where the police come in. They’d like to eliminate Papa and his malignant operation. Director Sarah Gazdowicz has a first rate cast, led by Regine Vital as the sharp detective who dogs Papa and his customers. Bob Mussett is frighteningly creepy as the cold, elegant, Victorian Papa who glibly confesses he is cursed with “both an obsession and insight.” Julia Talbot plays the child just unaware enough to be innocent and knowing at the same time.

Jeff Gill plays the spent man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, ready to sign on with Papa no matter the consequences, a character we can (sort of) identify with. Arthur Gomez plays an under cover cop who may be enjoying the dark side too much. I couldn’t say because I ran out of steam, trying to put this all together when I really didn’t want any part of it. I know children are abused. Plays that tell us about abuse are preaching to the converted. The abusers aren’t going to the theater. And if they are, they are not being transformed. WESTWORLD is the same as THE NETHER or PILLOWMAN to me.

We’re watching it play out on the nightly news, for heaven’s sake. Our government is kidnapping thousands of children, ripping them away from loving parents, and all we do is protest at the State House and march ourselves to Washington. It’s not enough.