Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (by Jennifer Haley, Apollinaire Theatre Company through March 14th @ the Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St.) tackles the themes of denial, obsession, addiction and safety. It attacks ideas that we have about suburbia and about video games. It is told in the style of a horror film, complete with zombies.
The characters live in a sterile development in suburbia, complete with hedges, green lawns, and a dreaded neighborhood association. The bored kids’ primary escape is a video game whose appearance parallels the setup of their neighborhood. As the kids spend more and more hours on the game, the line between reality and the video game begins to blur, and strange things start to happen in the neighborhood. The suggestion that the video game and the neighborhood are connected by wormholes seems more and more real as the play continues.
As the addiction and obsession with the game grows, there are signs of a problem and messengers share their concerns, but parents ignore any warnings. They deny that a game could cause any harm, and even more strongly they deny that their kid could do any wrong. Like many thrillers and horror movies, all the signs were there but the townsfolk choose to ignore them. The play’s main question is: Will someone figure out the underlying evil in the game before it is too late?
The play is more plot-driven than character-driven. Few characters appear in more than one scene, which does not allow us to get to know any character well. Instead we are following the video game, which is almost a character itself.
Each scene has two (usually new) characters having a conversation–parent/child, teenager/teenager, neighbor/neighbor, etc. The game is mentioned in all of the conversations. We listen to clues of the game’s destructive nature, watch some of the teenagers become obsessed, and witness the parents’ denial.
The play is a commentary on suburbia. Suburbia is a place that people take their families to escape the city, and playwright Jennifer Hanley includes lines to remind us of this. The irony is that by living in this sterile environment, the kids encounter this game and suburbia becomes a very dangerous place. This is not a new or ground-breaking statement but it works because, for most people, there is no quota on making fun of suburbia.
Hanley is also making a commentary on denial. If the parents paid attention to the clues than they might have prevented the game’s destruction. The game is a metaphor for other problems that parents ignore, such as drugs. When people live with a NIMBY mentality it allows problems to get worse, and Hanley demonstrates this.
The game is also a metaphor for addiction and obsession. Hanley shows us how one thing can control us, and that when control is in the wrong hands people do things that they might not otherwise do, that they might not even realize they are doing. This is a commentary on addictive substances as well as games. Many in real life have accused Dungeons and Dragons of causing crimes and suicides. There are several video games that have also been accused of causing crime. After this show, one audience member commented, “I once played Grand Theft Auto for hours. Afterwards you walk outside and you start thinking, ‘I could steal that car.’” Hanley takes our accusations and fears on addiction and obsession and makes them come alive.
The downside of the play is the lack of connection with individual characters. There really isn’t a lead. We are watching the game and its effect on a neighborhood more than watching individuals. When characters argue or are harmed, we have the same sympathy or anger that we might if we knew the character well. Instead of reacting to the destruction, we are waiting for the next scene to see what is happening in the video game next. This disconnect makes us more in our head than actively engaged.
Each scene adds more tension to the play and increases the stakes of the video game. Danielle Fauteux Jacques directs the actors to remain in a heightened state almost the entire play. Sound Designer Aaron Mack plays tense, creepy music for the majority of the play. In this way, the audience gets no break from the tension. There is no humor or other distraction. The intended effect was probably to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. But had the audience been given a break, the horror would have hit home much harder and made a stronger impact. It’s not just in the directing and music but in the writing, Hanley gives them little to work with as the play has one focus and no real subplot.
The acting is good. Of particular note is Brian Quint who plays Doug, a father who has no real relationship or connection with his son. Quint also plays Tobias, a creepy neighbor that everyone in the neighborhood thinks they know the truth about.
Julia Noulin-Merat has designed a set that is primarily black box that works because it allows pieces to easily be moved for each scene. She includes certain small touches—such as a decapitated hand, and light boxes to remind us of important props, moments or characters in the game. This is clever—having light boxes standout on a sparse stage points to the importance of electronics, and it is electronics (the video game) that drives the play.
The play was produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville 2008 Humana Festival, one of the top play festivals in the world. Haley has an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University and has received many honors.
Like many theaters, Apollinaire offers discount ticket prices student ($15) and seniors ($20). Patrons 30 and under also receive a discount and pay $20. Those between 31 and 64 pay $25 in advance or $30 at the door, which seemed high when one looked at competitor theaters. It also seemed odd to punish last-minute theater goers with a $5 fine.
Due to the play’s disconnect, there are moments when the play is flat. The clever concept is carried out in a simplistic style. But if you are interested in addiction, obsession, denial, video games, suburbia or zombies, then this play is for you. For horror movie lovers, this play is a must-see. Those who don’t like horror films might not enjoy this. The play is an unusual, cutting edge piece, the likes of which is rarely seen on stage.