Chicago Theater Review: NEIGHBORHOOD 3: REQUISITION OF DOOM (Strawdog)

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by Tony Frankel on October 20, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


Playwright Jennifer Haley is definitely onto something in her play Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, now receiving its Chicago premiere at Strawdog. In a suburban neighborhood in Anytown, USA, the local teens have become addicted to an Xbox video game in which the dissociative kids can role-play with each other, acting as superhuman robots out to destroy the zombies who have invaded their world. But, as with the best that Rod Serling could imagine, things are not what they seem. The setting of the game appears to be the teens’ own domiciles, and the line between virtual reality and real life begins to blur: Concerned parents who have lost control of their children begin to appear in the game, and the collected objects used to destroy monsters – a hammer, a weed-whacker – now threaten to annihilate more than just zombies.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom at Strawdog in Chicago

Four actors play an assortment of characters, all based on archetypes: The Father (Mike Dailey), The Mother (Kendra Thulin), The Daughter (Leah Karpel), and The Son (Sam Hubbard). Scenes range from frustrated parents trying to talk sense to the kids to the addicted teens who will do anything to get a joystick in their hands. Haley has plenty to say about the gaming phenomenon and the horrific way it consumes the lives of those who play; as such, she also comments on family dysfunction, American consumerism, and adolescents’ need to claim power in a world where everyone tells them what to do.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom at Strawdog in Chicago

It’s strange, therefore, that director Joanie Schultz has decided to create a tech-heavy show, which often does not support the scenes themselves – it actually intrudes. There are a bevy of monitors (media designer Kyle Hamman) spread across the stage, cleverly used to display both the game and webcam shots of players, but the scenes themselves are played out on a set consisting of no more than a concrete floor and two heavy, unwieldy boxes. Unfortunately, we get no sense of place or time from the director and the actors: When a scene occurs in front of a house, virtual reality lawns are displayed on the monitors, etc., and it’s distracting to bop between the actors and what’s appearing on the screens. This choice makes sense upon the final 15 minute reveal in the show (onw which is right out of David Cromer’s version of Our Town), but in order for that device to work, we have to be on board with the people and their plight; sadly, we are not, as all too often, the actors do not differentiate themselves enough for us to comprehend that they are different characters. In addition, this final terrifying scene is placed out of the view of most spectators, who will have to crane their necks to see the live scene; (it is little consolation that the action is also being projected on the monitors). As a result of these distractions, the show lacks a much-needed tension, even as some wonderful humor is wrung from an opening scene in which a boy lets a girl flirt with him so that he can use her brother’s Xbox.

It’s a shame that a play whose purpose is to warn us of the dangers associated with overabundant technology gets bogged down by the use of overabundant technology.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom at Strawdog in Chicago

photos by Chris Ocken

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
Strawdog Theatre Company
scheduled to end on November 10, 2012
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