Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
Over-compensating script about escaping planned community lifelessness packs an odd power
Published: March 16, 2011
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
By Jennifer Haley
Seventy minutes is not a long time. And it certainly should not feel like a long time for, say, watching a play. Yet somehow, for Neighborhood 3: Requsition of Doom, it feels too long, much too long—almost twice too long, in fact.
This is not because it is boring, or awkward, or terrible to watch. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable, and so the feeling that it is running too long sits rather uncomfortably in your gut, almost like a betrayal. But there it is: You’re looking at your watch. And it’s not because you want it to be over, but because what’s good about this play is so simple, and there is so much unnecessary fluff, adding only to the running time and detracting from what it is you like.
In Jennifer Haley’s Neighborhood, teenagers of various ages living in a planned community kind of suburbia become obsessed with a video game about killing zombies in a neighborhood like their own. Or, more accurately, not like their own, but actually their own—the game uses satellite imaging to map out the players’ houses and streets and uses them as the playing field. The kids play online and talk to each other over headsets as they become obsessed with reaching “the final house” and/or “the last chapter”—both are used interchangeably as the last step in beating the game and “escaping the neighborhood”—and it becomes abundantly clear that the game is not confined to the virtual world.
You’ve met the characters before. There are the jaded twins with the alcoholic father (who’s also a judge) who act angry to pretend they’re not hurt. There’s a son whose dad is gone and whose mother is trying to support him and give him his privacy but instead ends up weak and estranged. There’s a creepy neighbor who never had kids of his own but tends to his grass because he had three stillborn daughters whom he buried under a tree and whom he believes are ballerinas that come out at night and dance pliés on his neighbors’ lawn stones. (OK, maybe you haven’t met him before.)
They’re all played by four actors, who each inhabit one of four roles: mothers, fathers, sons, or daughters. This strategy presents one of the first downfalls of the production. The difficulty in telling the characters apart, without the aide of character-specific colors, dialects, or costumes, becomes great enough to impede the understanding of the script. Though each actor plays his or her roles well, the characters are mostly too similar to differentiate, especially considering that Haley, as a good playwright, has woven complex stories and relationships that only become more complicated as the play goes on.
And though Haley does a fantastic job structuring her script, she can’t help but pepper it with bombastic monologues that give away details cheaply and spell out metaphors that are already so clear. She hammers on the “last chapter” being “the only way to escape the neighborhood” and uses it as her sole tension and direction. And it’s redundancies like this that make you want to cut 30 minutes and skip to the inevitable end.
The actors meet Haley’s script with equal gratuitousness, and sometimes the tiny stage is home to a fantastic amount of guttural screaming. But somehow, there is something quite powerful about this play. A story in which the edges of virtual and physical reality blur while multiple complicated story lines blend into each other is not easy to pull off with four actors, black-box style—but it works, and much of it is due to the earnest passion of the cast. The teenagers, played by Glass Mind Theatre Company members Elizabeth Galuardi and Andrew Peters, are convincingly obsessed with their game and disturbed by their parents. Alexis Martinez’s mothers are frustratingly passive in a way that makes you want to rip some respect out of her children’s throats. And Rich Espey is a rarity, an actor who inhabits his characters to the fingertips. When he confronts his daughter, beer in hand, about dirty pictures on her cell phone, grabs her close, and whimpers, “You used to be so pretty,” the potential power of this script is realized, and all the rest becomes mere minutes in memory.
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