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A “dark play,” says a character in Carlos Murillo’s work of the same name, is a kind of game where only certain players know the rules and others don’t even know they’re playing—an exercise in manipulation and artifice that uses confusion to trigger a response in an ignorant participant. In the anonymous setting of a chat room, 14-year-old Nick (Clancy McCartney) stages an elaborate deception to ensnare naive 16-year-old Adam (Aaron Kirby). The game quickly spins out of control as Nick becomes as trapped as his prey.
For a play largely consisting of online conversations, Murillo’s 2007 cyberthriller is surprisingly packed and active. At times Murillo, a faculty member at DePaul’s Theatre School, tries to do too much: Nick’s mother’s homophobia is one unnecessary tangent. Yet the script’s energy and unpredictability compensate for its structural flaws. Joe Schermoly’s simple set design allows Michael Reed’s stunning lights to create a digital dreamscape; director Anthony Moseley uses the open space to emphasize both the freedom and distance of online communication.
Serving as the play’s narrator and rarely leaving the stage, Nick is a chilling and compelling lead character. McCartney navigates his tricky monologues with ease, and traces Nick’s turbulent emotions with a clarity that’s as unnerving as it is impressive. Nick’s drama teacher reiterates throughout the play that theater should mirror the darkness of the human soul. Through Nick, McCartney reveals the limitless potential for immorality in a digital world.