Jennfer Haley’s timely and clever play, set in suburbia, takes on links between gaming and violence.
With its current production, “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” Theatre Pro Rata has truly caught the Zeitgeist. As the nation grapples with the question of violence, Jennifer Haley’s play takes an ostensibly serious look at the corrupting influence of video games.
In an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood, the latest edition of the game, “Neighborhood 3,” whose object is destroying zombies, uses the actual neighborhood of the gamers as the setting. As the players move to higher levels, their parents start disappearing. “Virtual” and “actual” reality become confused.
Haley’s play is cunningly structured. Using only a series of two-person scenes, she lays out the complex narrative, drawing the audience into a mysterious world that becomes increasingly creepy and gruesome. She also infuses it with a wicked dark comedy. The one structural misstep is a longish final scene with an overly obvious trajectory.
Haley is much more clever than she is insightful. The play does operate as a strikingly effective metaphor for the generational divide between parents and children. But while on the surface, she employs hip Twilight Zone-esque theatrics, a look beneath reveals that she never quite comes to terms with the implications of her premise. And the play’s ideas are disturbingly reactionary: it places the locus of teen violence squarely on video games.
Director Wade A. Vaughn gives the play a stronger production than it probably deserves. With the aid of scenic designer Sadie Ward and prop designer Amy Bouthilette (emulating the nostalgic style of old-school games with stylized, 8-bit props), he draws the audience into the videogame world. He paces the show with enough energy to give it edge- of-your-seat excitement.
Vaughn’s success as an actor clearly gives him the experience to draw strong performances out of his cast: Brigid Kelley (as the four daughters), Ian Udulutch (as the four sons), Brian Columbus (as the four fathers) and Mame Pelletier (as the four mothers). Pelletier and Columbus are especially effective at differentiating their four characters.
This play might not a particularly deep or thought-provoking. But it’s still a great deal of fun. It’s theatricality and stylishness makes for an exciting and enjoyable 75 minutes.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about theater.