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Actor initially reluctant to embrace disturbing material of The Nether

Jennifer Haley play explores dark side of the Internet
nether
David Bloom and Lissa Neptuno star in the Firehall Arts Centre’s production of Jennifer Haley’s award-winning play The Nether.

David Bloom won’t hold it against you if you don’t see his new play.

Wait for Godot or see if the salesman lives this time and you’ll risk no ill will from the former Capilano University acting instructor.

“If this subject is a subject you don’t want to deal with,” he explains in a baritone that sounds closer to Downton Abbey than Downtown Vancouver, “I’m not going to be offended if you don’t come see this.”

But if you’re willing to slink through slimy realms that lurk like fallen continents in the shadows of the online world, The Nether may be a play for you.

In the near future (how near depends on how quickly technology evolves and how thoroughly we evolve with it) the Internet has been regulated, rebranded and transformed into a pleasure palace populated by indulging avatars. Behind one of those virtual doors is The Hideaway.

The Hideaway caters to pedophiles.

“What are you afraid of? Violence? Porn?” Bloom demands in his role as Sims.

Sims, who also goes by (shudder) Papa, is the proprietor of the fully tactile virtual world.

When he was about halfway through his first read of the script, Bloom recalls the phrase “I don’t think I can do this” running through his mind.

“I was just disturbed by the subject,” he says. “And it’s not my first pedophile,” he remarks, referring to roles in film and the TV show Cold Squad.

But as he read further, Bloom found himself enamoured by Jennifer Haley’s dialogue, which he found simultaneously compassionate and ruthless in its treatment of its characters.

Sims defends The Hideaway articulately and convincingly. After elaborating on pornography’s role at the vanguard of technological innovation, he argues that his creation allows pedophiles to “blow off steam.”

The world of The Nether is a bleak one and part of The Hideaway’s allure is that it offers scarce items like trees and gardens.

Once in The Hideaway, the avatars must comport themselves in a “quasi-Victorian” manner, resulting in elevating what was already elevated dialogue.

The combination of beauty and danger is marbled into the dialogue, as Sims describes the urges inherent in sentient beings in one breath and accusing his interrogator of attaining carnal knowledge of a dwarf in a fantasy realm in the next.

“It’s almost like [Judith Thompson] and George Bernard Shaw had a love child,” Bloom says of Haley. “By the time I got to the end I just thought, ‘I cannot not do this.’”

As a parent, his first reaction to a pedophile tends to be “kill the monster,” but Bloom says Haley’s work gave him pause.

“It actually made me think a little bit about what a horrific thing it would be to have that condition and to know it was wrong.”

Haley is interested in consent, imagination and — as we’ve wondered since the first joystick jockey announced he was dead after losing a video game — the inherent reality of the virtual sphere.

Bloom discusses the benefits of playing Sims again after his first trip to The Nether at the 2016 Fringe Festival.

In one scene, director Chris Lam (a former student of Bloom’s) notes Bloom should be saying, “No. I don’t,” rather than, “No, I don’t.”

It’s seemingly insignificant, but that subtle change in rhythm and inflection created a chill where there wasn’t one before, he says.

Still, Bloom says he understands people who are reluctant as his own son was hesitant to see the play.

“Who wants to see their father being a pedophile?” he asks.

But while his son was disturbed by what he saw, it was in a far different way than he anticipated, Bloom reports.

“You will be surprised at when you care,” he says. “[There’s a] tremendous light of beauty in the darkness of this play. And even a couple of surprising laughs.”

The Nether at the Firehall Arts Centre until Jan. 28. For more information, visit firehallartscentre.ca.