Part Stepford Wives, part Shaun of the Dead, Jennifer Haley’s Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom makes a morbid and exciting impact in its New York premiere. With the arrival of a video game that maps the players’ hometown and makes virtual zombie enemies of its inhabitants, a slice of cookie-cutter suburbia is thrown into parricidal chaos.
Neighborhood 3 makes material of the psychological damage done by white-picket-fence expectations and violent video games on young suburbanites, letting loose the imagination of a moody teenager on reality. Ultra-brutal methods of dispatching zombies in the game – the gouging of eyes with barbecue forks, the pulping of brains with a hammer, etc. – find their way from virtual reality on to the streets of a sleepy middle class town through unexplained virtual wormholes. The players long to reach ‘the final house’, the last level that lets them finally ‘escape the neighborhood’. The parents, struggling to tear their children away from a game that casts adults as the undead while remaining un-oppressive authority figures, become a different kind of monster as they resort to desperate violence to get their teens’ attention. Their laissez-faire attitude to parenting that let teenagers become so involved in R-rated computer games comes back to bite, bludgeon and stab them as imagination folds into reality.
Hollywood heavy-hitter Joel Schumacher’s direction of the play’s New York premiere is an exercise in tension building that works hand-in-hand with Haley’s script. With almost all of the violence taking place offstage, the play lives and dies by the ability of the production to fire the audience’s imagination. The slow, building rumble of unrest that Schumacher and the company convey is extremely effective in doing so, as the uneasy, sometimes funny early scenes of mild concern about obsessive gaming give way to the explosive outbursts that come as the teens approach the ‘final level.” By the time things actually start to go pear-shaped, the audience is on tenterhooks.
The players, consisting partly of ‘The Bats’ (The Flea’s in-house company) are for the most part quite good, but not exceptional. The average is lifted by standout performances – Connor Johnston as the frighteningly unpredictable Blake, and Kerry Ipema as his desperate mother offer some of the most satisfyingly intense moments, while Hank Lin plays tragically furious would-be father Tobias very well. Eric Folks, as Steve, makes a convincing and disquieting transition from a funny, sad businessman to a frantic, violent parent.
Simon Harding’s set, a tree-flanked road that folds up to create its own backdrop, serves its purpose well and nods to the play’s idea of imagination folding on to reality. More effective are the moments when the play becomes visually Hitchcockian – the silhouette of a hammer in the light of a torch and a backlit, offstage attack are moments straight out of a 60s horror movie that make fantastic use of The Flea’s limited square footage.
Neighborhood 3 is a fun, terrifying experience that no doubt gave pause to the parents in the audience. Though the tension flags in one or two under-acted scenes, the production as a whole is an extremely entertaining, slowly bubbling suburban fable that examines the ramifications of a world that introduces its children to violence at an increasingly young age.