by Byron Woods
Once it was believed that the Internet would connect us together, individually as well as a culture, in ways unimagined before—and in some ways, it has. But it has also repeatedly proven a hunting ground where the unwary have found their identities, emotions and bodies manipulated, hijacked or broadcast, worldwide.
Now that a generation has grown up online, research is beginning to trickle in detailing exactly what all those daily hours on Facebook, in chat rooms and in role-playing games has done to some of these children by mediating some of their most important social interactions—and, in some cases, their own identity formation as well.
(For an eye-opening experience, readers should peruse the scientific journal articles cataloged here, at the website for ReStart, a Washington state-based Internet addiction recovery program. If any of these these issues look familiar to the reader, professional assistance should possibly be considered.)
Raleigh Ensemble Players’ production of Dark Play, or Stories of Boys places us at close proximity (in their upstairs studio at 213 Fayetteville Street) to Nick: a good student, an imaginative thinker—and a potentially budding young sociopath as well. After using the Internet to get back at bullies at school, lately Nick’s been interested in seeing just how farther he can push people he looks down on—those whose “gullibility threshold” is greater than his own. Where will they stop, he wonders: at meeting perfect strangers? Having sex with them? How about murder?
Manbites Dog Theater and UNC Performance Studies explored virtual reality and its discontents earlier in the season, in concurrent productions of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom and Virtual Performance Factory. But Carlos Murillo’s play takes on different questions, in a different part of cyberspace—and proves just how vast the landscape of the subject matter is.
Director Glen Matthews and his cast have assembled a funny, edgy and decidedly suspenseful two-act play. By now no one should be surprised by strong work from Ryan Brock as the disaffected—but still so needy—Nick, or Shawn Stoner (who distinguished himself in Shakespeare’s R&J) as Adam, the unwitting subject of Nick’s little online project.
But truly distinguished supporting work must be noted here as well. Chris Milner delivers a series of memorable, career-best performances in brief roles both delightful and chilling. Lori Scarborough Ingle again captures our attention, doubling as Nick’s girlfriend and Rachel, an Internet persona he creates, while Hazel Edmond indulges in amusing—though not always well-scripted—appearances as a “female netizen.”
Despite its irritating momentary redundancies—in which certain tag lines are needlessly repeated until we’re all tempted to join in along with the actors—Carlos Murillo’s script propels us through a mediated, psychosexual maze, before leaving us wondering just how far Nick has been truly thrown from the wreckage he discloses. Should this play’s last lines leave us laughing—or with a shudder? Judge for yourself. Highly recommended.