A thin, pale boy sits in his boxers at the foot of a small, twin bed when you enter the third floor of the Flat Irons Building. He’ll be the narrator and key figure in the 90-minute story of technology, morality, and obsession. It’s a frightening tale of internet manipulation that almost ends fatally, but what is most frightening is that the story is true.
Inspired by the 2004 Vanity Fair article, “U Want Me 2 Kill Him,” Carlos Murillo has penned a morality tale of how young neurosis and technology can collide to create a digital world as dangerous as our own. In “dark play, or stories for boys” (written in lowercase like a lazy IM conversation), 16-year old Nick seduces his classmate Adam in a chat room using the gorgeous, perfect, and perfectly fake woman Rachel. In real life, this woman had no body, but this fictional female is embodied in the play, reciting the lines of text as if she is a fully fleshed character. Collaboraction Artistic Director Anthony Mosley’s staging is so engaging that you forget most of the dialogue takes place while characters sit at a computer screen. Besides being compelling, frightening, and well-acted, “dark play” is an excellent example of how technological interactions which consume so much of our contemporary lives can be meaningfully staged using traditional theatrical conventions.
Just as thespians create characters to illicit emotion, so too does Nick craft a three-dimensional digital Delilah. The difference, however, is that theatergoers are conscious of their manipulation. They may suspend their disbelief, but they know they are merely players on a stage, a fact they’re reminded of come curtain call. But there is no curtain call in the online roman in “dark play.” The truth is only revealed after a nearly-fatal ending, which appears quickly in the play, and despite being the actual event, feels somewhat false. Ironically, the strength of “dark play” is also its weakness. The climax might be real, but it diverges so far from the play’s reality that the ending feels somewhat contrived. It’s deeply ironic that a true ending feels false.
That said, the bulk of “dark play” is theatrical and entertaining, chronicling what a British prosecutor called “an Internet soap opera moving from one scene to another, each character and story line more fantastic than the last." It’s a startling exploration of a young boy’s psyche, which is all the more frightening when you realize we are only a few keystrokes away from doing the same.