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Somewhere between 2015 and 2017, I read an article reviewing a stage play about a futuristic society where they had a realistic VR experience (the impression I got was that it was akin to a Star Trek holodeck). In it, participants were presented with a little girl and disturbingly

were encouraged to rape and murder her.

Then at the end of the experience, the little girl would reappear, completely unharmed, in order to remind the participant that they shouldn't feel guilty about their actions because none of it was real. I think the protagonist was someone discovering this VR experience for the first time.

The main conflict of the play was that, because the VR experience was so realistic, if this simulated behavior should be held to the same moral and legal standards as doing it to a real person. There might have been a "which is real, the virtual world or my world" subplot going on too, but I don't recall.

I also distinctly remember reading that Jennifer Hale (the voice actress) was attached to the production, perhaps as a performer. But looking at her filmography, I can't find any information of her doing stage plays. So maybe I'm wrong about this, but it's a detail I remember distinctly.

I don't recall any mention of this being an adaptation; I think it was an original play. And I think it was shown in the United States. What is the play that I'm remembering?

  • 5
    This is a good, well-described story-ID question and I've upvoted. But just reading/thinking about the described plot and experiences made me feel a little ill. I've modified the title to be slightly less explicit, giving casual viewers a content warning for "horrific activities" but leaving the details in the post itself. Hope you don't mind. – Rand al'Thor Mar 25 at 15:16
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    @Randal'Thor Thanks for the title change; I agree that leaving it nondescript is better. I had originally softened it by not saying everything, but just saying "horrific activities" is probably best. The play was definitely disturbing, and that was the main conflict: it's such a disturbing experience, but it's not "real", so does that make it morally and legally okay? So I think it's important to keep it in the body. – Thunderforge Mar 25 at 15:22
  • I've hidden the potentially trigger content. Your call whether to rephrase the warning if you don't want your question to come off as too NSFW, but I do think that part should be warned about, and hidden. – Jenayah Mar 25 at 15:42
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    @Jenayah The spoiler is a good idea; I've rephrased the warning so the sentence is less abrupt, and so as you said, it doesn't come off as too NSFW. – Thunderforge Mar 25 at 15:47
19

It looks like this might be "The Nether" featuring Jennifer Haley. From a review:

In Jennifer Haley’s drama “The Nether,” the time is the future, and someone is being interrogated about possible crimes committed in a shared virtual reality experience involving a Victorian theme, grown men and prepubescent girls (who don’t actually exist).

The play has turned out to be Haley’s biggest hit yet. Though it premiered in Los Angeles nearly three years ago, the unsettling thriller has caught on. After well-reviewed productions in London and New York, it receives half a dozen domestic productions this year, including at the San Francisco Playhouse, as well as several in Germany and Spain.

Promo video from one production

This analysis of the play provides further description of the plot:

Unfolding in contrasting, two-actor scenes that alternate between the gray, near future “real world,” and the vibrant virtual home, The Nether paces like the television police procedural format Haley consciously mimics (Rizzolo). Sims stands accused of “Solicitation. Rape. Sodomy. Murder,” as his accuser, Detective Morris, equates the activities in Sims’ realm with actions in the real world (Haley, The Nether 6). Morris, an investigator representing the wider Nether community argues that his code is too sensual and real. She fears people abandoning the material world to become “shades,” like her late father. Sims suspects she wants his code for commercial gain, “You want my code…You want to sell it to Disney,” (31). At the center of their arguments is Iris, a precocious nine year old resident of The Hideaway in Sims’ employ. Sims’ defense is that Iris is not really a child, but an adult engaged in consensual adult role-play, and his realm is properly registered (11). Morris counters that the Nether community’s policies changed, and the two engage in heated debate about identity, sex, and consequences. In alternate scenes Morris interrogates Doyle, a 65 year old science teacher who has a long history in Sims’ Hideaway. Morris hopes Doyle will lead her to Sims. She has a detailed account of activities in The Hideaway obtained by her inside agent, Mr. Woodnut (20). Using Woodnut’s report, Morris attempts to bully Doyle. She threatens to expose his activities in the Hideaway to his family. Doyle however intends to become a shade, 142 is ambivalent about exposure, and cares only about “keeping” Iris (10). Doyle’s emotional tether to Iris sounds very unsettling until it becomes clear that Doyle actually is Iris, and Morris is really Woodnut. The entire situation is a bizarre relationship tangle orbiting “something real,” which Morris believes is the only thing that proves love (36). Something real is somewhat nebulous, for Morris it is the void she carries of her father’s decision to become a shade. For Doyle, something real is a token representing when his life held meaning, a distinguished teaching award (56). Meanwhile, Sims connection is to a real sapling of a poplar tree in his garden (46). In the end Doyle commits suicide, after the detective obtains the information she needs to shut down The Hideaway, and banish Sims from the Nether (66)

Found with search terms of "stage play" "virtual reality" virtual atrocities

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    I would have to agree. I saw a performance of The Nether a couple of years ago, and it was the first thing I thought of when I read the question. – JohnWinkelman Mar 25 at 18:47
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    Yes, this seems is the play I was thinking of. Knowing the name to search for, I found that this article was what I read back then. I'm somewhat amused that I read "Jennifer Haley" as "Jennifer Hale", and ever since I've assumed it was the voice actress. – Thunderforge Mar 25 at 20:08

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