As sites like the late JuicyCampus and others face attacks for allowing users to post anonymous material, current Emerson actors and alumni tackle iDark Play: or Stories for Boys/i, currently playing at the Apollinaire Theater Company in Chelsea. Based on a true story of cyber-deception, false identity and attempted murder, iDark Play/i is a rather frightening, enthralling portrayal of the extreme dangers of internet anonymity.
The play's title refers to a dangerous type of social experiment introduced by an eccentric high school drama teacher, Ms. Spiegel (Lorna Nogueria, in one of many roles), where some players know they are playing a game and others do not.
Socially-isolated14-year-old Nick (Erez Rose, junior BFA action major) learns of this form of manipulation in class and is inspired to try it out in the virtual world. When he stumbles across a 16-year-old boy's profile with a seemingly innocent statement, "I want to fall in love," Nick seizes the opportunity to play. He decides he will be the one who knows all the rules, and the boy, Adam (Mark Vashro, Emerson who graduated in 2008), will unknowingly assume the role of his gullible pawn.
What Nick doesn't fully realize, though, are the stakes of this game. When he creates his cyber-identity, Rachel (Christine Busler senior), the girl of Adam's dreams, he steps beyond the comparatively innocent and safely anonymous realm of chat room cybersex into a larger, more personal form of deception.
Though he believes himself equal to whatever challenges may come his way, Nick does not consider the psychological and sexual turmoil that posing as a girl will cause-for both boys.
The play's set underscores the virtual theme of the play, with metallic blue tones that give the scenes a cold, prison-like feel which complements the impersonality of a digital world. Flashing lights and electronic music signal the changes in time and place in a high-wire, surreal fashion.
A plethora of side characters-brilliantly managed by only two actors (Brian Quint and Nogueira)-add humor, tension and depth to the story.
For Rose, a junior BFA Acting major, getting into character involved trying to find the good in Nick and bring out the insecurities that caused him to invent such a dangerous lie in the first place.
"When it comes down to it, he's a lonely kid with no friends," Rose said. "To have no one . is hard."
The challenge was making Nick real, right down to the devious smile and an eagerness to be cool that masked a deeper sense of confusion. The character, Rose says, had to be believable to the audience, which meant that he had to maintain Nick for an hour and forty minutes-nonstop.
"I couldn't for one second not be in it," Rose said. "I don't even go offstage. It's a thrill."
The other actors were able to work off of Nick's role as the instigator and story center. As the manipulated Adam, Vashro, a recent Emerson grad, had a different experience in the play.
"I didn't have to make up a lot of stuff," he said. "Everything was provided for me."
Because his character has to believe what he is told, Vashro's main work was in portraying the na've victim, which involved more focus on the physical aspects like tensing muscles and facial expression.
"I got to go on the ride," he said. "I was almost as close as the audience because I got to believe the stories that Nick made up."
As Rachel, Busler, a senior BFA acting major, faced other challenges playing a character who wasn't technically real.
There were times, she admits, where she wanted Rachel to be able to get up and walk over to Adam, or to interact beyond the limits of cyberspace. However, her character was Nick's creation and therefore incapable of such an action.
"When I was first rehearsing, I saw her very much as Nick," she said. "I was playing with it as though she was Nick."
In order for Rachel to be believable, though, Busler said she had to stop thinking of Rachel as imaginary and work-within her limitations as a cyber-character ? to bring her to life as a separate character from Nick.
"Rachel really became her own person," she said.
With a look at the consequences of using the Internet to create a sense of self, iDark Play/i examines whether a person can really be detached from his or her virtual identities, or whether the sense of anonymity that Nick believes he can maintain is an impossible one.
iDark Play/i reminds the audience that cyberspace isn't just a diversionit's a second reality, one that meshes with the real world, with potentially serious repercussions.
iThe play is directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques, who is also an Emerson Alumna.
The show will be playing till March 20. Student rush tickets are $15. Normal tickets are $20./i