Once it was believed that the Internet would connect us, individually and as a culture, in unimagined ways —and to some degree 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.
A generation has grown up online. And now the research is beginning to trickle in, detailing what those daily hours on Facebook, in chat rooms and in role-playing games has done to these children by mediating some of their most important social interactions and sometimes their own identity formation as well. (For an eye-opening experience, readers should peruse the scientific journal articles cataloged at reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program.)
The Raleigh Ensemble Players production of Dark Play, or Stories of Boys places us at close proximity 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 how much further 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 also explored virtual reality and its discontents earlier in the season, in Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. 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 game 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, who plays the disaffected—and still so needy—Nick, or Shawn Stoner (who distinguished himself in Shakespeare's R&J) who portrays 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 momentary redundancies, Carlos Murillo's script sends us through a mediated, psychosexual maze before leaving us wondering just how far Nick has been truly thrown from the wreckage he discloses. Should the last line leave us laughing—or with a shudder? Judge for yourself. Highly recommended.