by Jess Hoffman

The Nether originally premiered in 2013, but seems even more relevant today than it was then. The current production at the Ghent Playhouse makes it painfully obvious that we have only moved closer to the imagined future of The Nether in the last ten years.

The Nether begins with an exceptionally interesting premise: in a futuristic world where the internet has evolved into various virtual reality spaces, a man named Sims has created a virtual world called the Hideaway where pedophiles are able to indulge their pedophilic urges in virtual reality with virtual children piloted by adults. The ethical implications of these online activities are called into question as the Hideaway’s creator (played by George Filieau) is interrogated by Agent Morris (played by Amy Hausknecht).

As the play progresses, it switches back and forth between Agent Morris’s interrogations in the real world and the virtual reality of the Hideaway. Seeing the Hideaway come to life on the stage is uncomfortable in a very poignant way. It is made even more poignant by the talents of actress Aaliyah Al-Fuhaid, who plays a little girl in the Hideaway named Iris. Al-Fuhaid is convincing as a little girl but her nuanced portrayal of Iris also reminds us that Iris has the complex emotions and savviness of someone much older. She also brings in moments that are slightly uncanny, so as to remind the audience that we are still in a virtual world; while the depths of Iris’s character remind us even still that the virtual reality has real people with real emotions behind it.

The production elements of this show are a mixed bag. The sets for the Hideaway are particularly striking and show the lavish comforts offered by the Hideaway. Set designers Sam Reilly and Cathy Lee-Visscher have created excellent sets which make the most of the small stage space and roll in and out easily for seamless set transitions. The costumes are simple but very effective. Particularly observant audience members will note the use of black outfits for characters who dominate their perspective realms: Agent Morris in the real world and Sims in The Hideaway. The show’s props left something to be desired. I understand the challenges of portraying convincingly futuristic technology, especially on a community theater budget, some of the properties choices are severely lacking imagination. For example, Agent Morris reads her reports off of what is clearly an iPad with a piece of duct tape blatantly slapped over the Apple logo.

Despite the moving sets and relatively few costume changes, not all of the scene transitions are seamless. George Filieau has a bad habit of moving for the exits before the lights dim, which was particularly annoying in this show when he is in the middle of an interrogation. And in a show where so many of the sets rolled onto and off the stage quickly and smoothly under dim lighting, it is an unwelcome contrast when the actors come out and set the stage for a new scene in full light.

At the end of the play, there is a dance between two of the characters that is off-putting in every way. The insertion of a dance here does little to advance the story or the themes of the play. But assuming that the two characters needed a dance break at the end of the show, director Patrick White would have done well to find a good dance choreographer. The choreography of this dance is so poorly chosen for the moment and the tone of the play that I wanted to avert my eyes.

But the ending of The Nether is salvaged by the very last scene, in which the “real-life” characters reenact one of the play’s earlier scenes that took place in the Hideaway between virtual avatars. This final moment shines a light on the real impacts of what people do in virtual spaces, and drives home the play’s central themes.

The Ghent Playhouse’s production of The Nether could have done with more fine-tuning in order to correct some to scene transitions and bad choreography. Nevertheless, it is still worth seeing. The Nether brings to life a dark future which will likely seem eerily plausible to theatergoers in 2023, and it does so in a way that is interesting and evocative.

The Ghent Playhouse presents The Nether by Jennifer Haley, directed by Patrick White, runs from June 2-18, 2023, at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place Ghent, NY 12075. Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Peyton VanDerheyden. Light/sound operator: Cathy Lee-Visscher. Cast: George Filieau as Sims/Papa, Amy Hausknecht as Morris, Neal Berntson as Doyle, Aaliyah Al-Fuhaid as Iris, Aidan White as Woodnut. Set design and construction by Sam Reilly and Cathy Lee-Visscher. Lighting design by Joe Sicotte. Sound design by Monk Schane-Lydon.

Performance dates are Friday-Sunday. Friday, and Saturday curtains are at 7:30pm and Sundays are matinees only at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $28, $23 for members, $12 for students. Runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Contains themes of pedophilia and descriptions of violence. Recommended for ages 14+. Tickets are available online at, by phone at 518-392-6264, or at the door for any performance. For more information visit, call 518-392-6264, or email

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