At times, the domestic vignettes that make up the ominous stage play Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom evoke the cutscenes of videogames. Playwright Jennifer Haley presents familiar types of suburban characters and interactions while alluding to violent, outlandish situations in the background. The four actors are even identified as “father type” (Bryan Brendle), “mother type” (Rachel Garner), “son type” (Greg Bosworth) and “daughter type” (Jaclyn Hofmann).
Now playing as part of Aurora Theatre’s Harvel Lab Series, Neighborhood 3 intentionally blurs the distinction between a videogame and reality for the characters and the audience, so it’s not always clear how artificial the scenes are meant to be.
Directed by Daniel Thomas May, Neighborhood 3 takes place as late afternoon gives way to dusk on a suburban cul-de-sac. Amid the various family conflicts and adolescent minidramas, the play reveals that the teens are all obsessed with playing a zombie-shooting game called Neighborhood 3. The game features an eerily plausible gimmick that draws on GPS technology, so the players kill zombies on the street where they live.
Not surprisingly, the parents decry their children’s addiction to their gaming consoles and how they’d rather talk to their online teammates than their flesh-and-blood families. The play unfolds in short scenes that take place in different houses, and we gradually figure out which kids belong to which grown-ups. One girl invites a boy over, but he’s more interested in playing the game than making out. A disapproving dad lectures his son about taking responsibility to keep the swimming pool clean. An icy, hard-drinking mom has an awkward conversation with her daughter’s friend. Two adults married to other people flirt in a back yard.
Frequently these scenes set a tone that suggests a two-dimensional take on John Cheever, with adults that almost present caricatures of suburban conformity. At times, they’re so flat as to seem almost cartoonish. With all the family resentment and disappointment barely below the surface, the game seems more a symptom of suburban angst, rather than its source.
The most convincing, grounded performances tend to involve young people in the throes of the game itself, particularly when Hofmann and Bosworth play siblings reluctantly preparing for their alcoholic father’s intervention. The playwright enjoys contemporary online slang in lines like “He pwned her with a barbecue fork.”
Even though Neighborhood 3 offers a familiar perspective on middle-class anxieties, it builds suspense in fresh creative ways. Young players talk about completing the game at “The Final House” as sirens echo through the neighborhood. Four video screens flank the performing space, which flash sinister, game-style instructions between scenes: “You will see a claw hammer. Pick it up. You will need it.”
Neighborhood 3 effectively builds momentum to something very bad indeed, yet maintains enough ambiguity to keep the audience guessing. Like Haley’s characters, the audience doesn’t know whether they’re players or being played.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. Through March 4. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. Thu.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. $15. 770-476-7926. www.auroratheatre.com
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