It sounded like a good match: Batman and Lost Boy movie director Joel Schumacher, versatile master of action and suspense, in his New York stage debut directing a play by Jennifer Haley, a writer I’ve called the first major playwright of the digital age, whose The Nether, a play that depicts a near future in which people lose themselves in a virtual world, won awards and entranced critics in New York and London earlier this year.
But “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” at the Flea Theater, for all its promise, doesn’t have the requisite dread and is doomed to disappoint.
Click on any photograph by Hunter Canning to see it enlarged.
Haley calls her play, which received its world premiere at the Humana Festival in 2008, “a horror story about suburban video game addiction.” It cleverly depicts a role-playing game – or, more precisely, an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), such as World of Warcraft — that has captured the teenage population of a suburban neighborhood. The game creates a virtual reality based on the neighborhood and its inhabitants – the real parents are given video game avatars that turn them into menacing zombies – until the real and virtual neighbors literally bleed into one another.
A voiceover (by Justin Ahdoot) supplies the instructions for the game — e.g. “Enter the house…When you exit the bedroom and go back down the stairs you will notice a pool of blood on the carpet. You have just moved through a secret wormhole in the Neighborhood.” These instructions alternate with a series of two-character scenes, portrayed by 16 members of The Bats, the resident company of The Flea.
Haley can be spot-on in capturing the interaction of affluent teenagers, such as in the first scene between
Trevor (Alex Haynes) and Makaela (Adelind Horan):
Trevor: You think your dad will get you a Jag
Makaela Maybe. If I act like a giant jerk who’s totally circling the drain he’ll buy one to try to save me. Otherwise, it’ll probably be a Toyota
The script is threaded with moments of dark humor. When “zombiekllr14” (Connor Johnston) discovers that another avatar is actually his friend Cody’s mother Barbara (Sydney Blaxill), he says “Mrs. Whitestone, it’s me Blake,” but then adds if she doesn’t turn on her flashlight (some requirement of the game), “I’m sorry to say this Mrs. Whitestone but I will waste you and you know if you die in the Last Chapter you can no longer resurrect.”
The play is pointed – a sharp commentary on the dysfunction engendered both by sheltered suburban living and by the growing obsession with online life.
But, oddly, the director misses the (literally) screaming opportunity that Neighborhood 3 offers — to transport us on stage to the wonder, terror and excitement of video gaming. Perhaps in part because of budget constraints, little horrifies and even less amazes. The set and lighting are static and uninteresting. The pacing makes the show seem longer than its 70 minutes. The Bat cast, most in their early 20s, is more successful in portraying the teenagers than their parents. The enterprise as a whole feels like a workshop, an early career effort by two artists with impressive track records (for Schumacher an early second career) that would feel almost churlish to review, if the top ticket price wasn’t so high.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
The Flea Theater
41 White Street
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Cast: The Bats: Justin Ahdoot, Sydney Blaxill, Alexandra Curran, Eric Folks, Adam Alexander Hamilton,Alex Haynes, Adelind Horan, Lindsley Howard, Kerry Ipema, Olivia Jampol, Connor Johnston, Hank Lin, Madeline Mahoney, Cristina Pitter, and Brendan Sokler.
Simon Harding (scenic design), Brian Aldous (lighting design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Janie Bullard (sound design), Grace Interlichia (assistant costume design), John McKenna (assistant sound design), J. David Brimmer (fight choreography), David Monteagudo (assistant director), Zach Golden (assistant to the director), Abbey Bay (production stage manager), and Kaila Hill (assistant stage manager).
Tickets: $15 to $105
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom is scheduled to run through December 20, 2015