Picture perfect families in a managed neighborhood begin to crack when a popular video game starts feeling like reality. Jennifer Haley’s dark comedy Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom shows just how fragile family bonds are when a community encounters a crisis and parents are faced against their teenage children in order to survive. Veteran film director Joel Schumacher adds his vision of Haley’s material and directs a full cast from The Flea Theater’s resident volunteer acting company, The Bats.
The production begins with a voice (Justin Ahdoot) giving instructions to pick up a claw hammer and enter a house. Theatergoers feel like they are walking through Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and eventually realize they are witnessing a video game called Neighborhood 3. Brazen high school student Makaela (Adelind Horan) flirts with classmate Trevor (Alex Haynes) in her home and offers him Vicodin. Trevor declines the Vicodin and only wants to play Neighborhood 3. Makaela does not want to play the video game because she finds it creepy. The video game uses satellite technology to map out Makaela and Trevor’s own neighborhood. Trevor believes “sometimes you need a place to be sick” and Neighborhood 3 offers such a venue. Players kill zombies who closely resemble people that the players know in reality.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom continues on with revolving scenes of self-absorbed parents who are aloof but act concerned about their children playing the mysterious, violent video game. The zealous teenage children are gung-ho about getting to the game’s next level with other players. It is not until the latter half of the play that the two worlds—parents and children—start to collide. Theatergoers who are used to experiencing a play through the eyes of a single main character may struggle since there are 17 characters in this production. The video game does not really have a backstory so there is not a lot of depth to the antagonist.
The video game is like an omniscient intelligence that is not seen but heard and capable of creating horrific events. Theatergoers might feel detached after seeing one scene after another with new characters since the production’s advancement relies on its plot and not character development. After a while, it is like watching recycled characters going through a similar experience without the story moving a few inches until the predictable ending shows up. Following just one family as they struggle through Neighborhood 3 would give theatergoers the opportunity to grasp the depth of what the characters are really experiencing.
The casting and performances are outstanding and Eric Folks is flawless as Steve—a husband whose “wife is taking a break from [their] family so [he is] kind of holding down the fort.” The script provides enough space for the actors to interpret the material and make character choices. Folks brings physical humor and a natural 1950s feel as a father struggling to raise his defiant teenage daughter Chelsea (Madeline Mahoney). As a corporate manager, Steve terminates employees who are not performing, but at home, Steve cannot sack his only child when she does not meet his standards. In the driveway scene, Steve confronts Chelsea and demands that she go back inside their home. Before their emotional exchange turns violent, Steve expresses that he does not know Chelsea anymore and Steve adds humor to the scene by awkwardly walking across the stage. Folks effectively generates charm and sympathy, and then leaves audience members wondering if his character is really as pure as Steve’s clean-cut looks suggest.
Scenic designer Simon Harding creates a space where theatergoers enter by walking across artificial grass and sit in front of cutout trees with a slanted backdrop that resembles a public skateboarding ramp. The space does not feel like a movie set from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice, but more like the neighborhood from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Lighting designer Brian Aldous’ genius use of subtle lighting coming from a tree trunk allows for the trunk to also act as a refrigerator.
The value of the production is in the entertaining and morbid tone about massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like World of Warcraft, influencing our social interactions and shaping our family dynamics. Haley relies on style and exploits improbable and exaggerated situations in a missed attempt at creating a farce because of the production’s lukewarm plot twists. The play can travel for decades as long as future generations of theatergoers relate to the subject matter. For theatergoers who are only interested in seeing Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom because Schumacher is attached as the director, this might not be enough to carry the show. This production is recommended for theatergoers who enjoy seeing a fresh slant on popular culture and are not solely attached to character development or plot depth.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom runs until Dec. 20 at The Flea Theater (41 White St. between Church St. and Broadway) in Manhattan. Evening performances are Wednesday-Monday at 7 p.m. with no matinee performances. Tickets range from $15-$105. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit TheFlea.org.