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Theatre in Review: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (The Flea Theater)

Eric Folks, Madeline Mahoney. Photo: Hunter Canning

"Life is like a video game. Everyone must die." So says one of the characters in Jennifer Haley's suburban gothic, in which the teenage population of a residential cul-de-sac avidly plays a video game (see the title above) with dire results for all. At first, it sounds fairly typical -- the players rush around a virtual landscape, killing zombies -- but it has an eerily personal touch. "It maps out your own neighborhood. How creepy is that?" asks Makaela, who declines to play. The slightly lost-seeming Trevor elucidates the game's appeal, saying, "You have to get to the top," adding that then "you're out, you're free, and nothing can hurt you anymore." In fact, Steve, a worried father whose wife has taken a powder, leaving him in the unaccustomed role of single parent, worries that his daughter has become so obsessed with the game that she doesn't want to stop, even to eat. Steve is a corporate manager and is used to firing poorly performing employees. "But you know you can't fire your own kid, even when she comes out of her room looking like some kind of monster," he says, fretting. Leslie, another mother, to whom he is confiding -- and whose daughter, Madison, is equally game-addicted, says, "They're almost at the Last Chapter. Doesn't that sound promising?"

Actually, no. Vicki, another mother, has so entirely lost touch with her son -- he has sealed off his bedroom -- engages Kaitlyn, one of his friends, in conversation, plying her with wine in order to loosen her up. What she learns is that the video game "uploads floorplans of the Neighborhood Association," that "there are wormholes all over the neighborhood," and that "one of them connects your imagination in the game to what happens in real life." Before long, a cat has been tortured to death; one of the neighbors has admitted to burying stillborn triplets under the crepe myrtle tree in his yard; and a mother has a barbecue fork stuck in her eyes. Another mother has her head bashed in. And everyone keeps repeating the same warning: Don't go into the Final House!

I appreciate that it can be difficult finding suitable scripts for The Bats, the Flea's resident troupe, especially since large-cast shows are needed to give everybody a chance to show their stuff. But it's still hard to understand why the company chose a play that is more or less indistinguishable from one of those cheapie teen-horror films that studios like Screen Gems roll out at certain points of the year (most notably, Halloween) in the hope of picking up a quick $10 million or so over a couple of weekends. Haley, whose last work, The Nether, was about pedophiles and virtual reality websites, is apparently on a one-woman crusade to expose the Internet as a bottomless sinkhole of vice. At least Neighborhood 3 lacks the pretentiousness of The Nether, but its B movie dramatics become tiresome all too quickly, and, though running only 70 minutes or so, it seems to go on for much longer.

Much has been made of the fact that Joel Schumacher -- he of the extensive Hollywood career -- signed on to direct at The Flea, and that this is not the Bats' finest moment is probably not his fault. The script consists of a series of two-person scenes that are mostly designed to drop more bits of exposition about the video game, and to lay bare various family dysfunctions. The actors come at us in tag teams, spouting their punchy, melodramatic dialogue and getting off stage as fast as possible. Because all of the actors are roughly the same age, it is often hard to separate the adult characters from the adolescents. Then again, it hardly matters, because they are apparently all doomed in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

In any case, Simon Harding's set, with a painted deck featuring a road with Astroturf on one side and a painted body of water on the other -- could it be the swimming pool with the barracuda? -- is interesting; the design also includes a realistically rendered crepe myrtle tree. Brian Aldous' lighting and Jessica Pabst's costumes are solidly done. Janie Bullard's sound design, which hints at all sorts of mayhem beyond our view, could be louder and more evocative.

It's possible Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom might amuse game players or fans of films like the Final Destination series, but it isn't lively or funny enough for satire, and, taken on its own terms, is pretty trashy stuff. The characters are little more than avatars of suburban ennui, and the narrative's downward slope to disaster is all too predictable. The theatre can do many things, but it can't compete with the junk in your Netflix feed. Somehow, I feel that a Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom II is not in our future. -- David Barbour

(18 November 2015)

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