As we get closer and closer to the most fabulous of all holidays, Halloween, a new play has just opened up that is smart, darkly funny, and genuinely creepy. In their 2012-13 season, the Empire Theatre Company explored the horrors of the corporate world in The Office Plays (read my review of that production HERE). This season, they turn their attentions to the suburban landscape and the horrors hidden right in our own homes, in our children’s minds, and in the virtual worlds they so often inhabit.
I’ve loved horror video games for a long time. When I was a kid, I had the NES versions of both A Nightmare on Elm Street and the frustratingly difficult Friday the 13th; even with the pitchfork and Mrs. Vorhees’ sweater, I never could beat Jason that third time (until years later when I bought a Game Genie to give me a little extra “help”). Even with the limits of 8-bit graphics, there was something terrifying about being cornered on the road around Camp Crystal lake or in one of the many cabins scattered across the map, about seeing Freddy’s disembodied face or razored glove flying toward you during one of the dreaded dream sequences. Although I’m not the video game addict I was as a kid, I still love to kill some time with my trusty Xbox and Xbox 360 (one console is never enough…maybe I am still an addict?) and I continue to enjoy horror games like Obscure, Hunter: The Reckoning, Indigo Prophecy, and the Silent Hill franchise. I enjoy the rush of the sudden chills that the game can produce while knowing that I’m safe on my couch.
But what if the horror weren’t contained inside the console? What if the boundaries between the real world and the 3D world started to break down? Jennifer Haley’s clever and almost surreal script for Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom explores just such a scenario, presenting a number of families in a suburban neighborhood where their children are distant and troubled, obsessed with the online world of their favorite new game, Neighborhood 3. As the obsession with the game intensifies, parents and teens alike feel the growing tension in their quaint little subdivision; the game begins to look more and more like the world around them, and the world around them begins to look more and more like the game until it’s difficult to tell which is which.
The play is adeptly handled by four actors who play all of the residents of the subdivision: Darin Kerr (who also directs) plays the “father type,” Christa Weiler plays the “mother type,” Zach Vodden plays the “son type,” and Ivy McGurran plays the “daughter type.” There is something very effective about having these four actors play all of the roles; each character is unique and differentiated by costume and mannerisms, and yet they all seem to melt together into a sort of predictable uniformity like the identical model homes that line the streets in any neighborhood of this type, or like the interchangeable string of victims in a horror movie – or horror video game.
Technically, the show was handled very well. Scenes were separated by projections on the screen of instructions within the video game: actions to take, weapons to procure, puzzles to solve. All of the video game adventures were leading up to the “final house,” the source of the zombie infestation and the only way to be free of the neighborhood once and for all. Moments from the game were presented on screen and then bled into the scene being presented. The staging, though minimal, was skillful and added to the sense of terrible banality: this really could be happening anywhere. Where The Office Plays sometimes felt engulfed by the large stage and enormous proscenium, the simple set of Neighborhood 3 with only 3 lighted, portable boxes, a white picket fence, a border of astroturf, and a single door, felt almost claustrophobic as the clueless parents come to wonder about their children’s lives and fascinations (or not), and as the children grow increasingly detached, or scared, or angry. In the end, it’s not clear whether any of what was shown on stage actually happened or if there are even more levels of virtual reality layered one on top of another than originally suspected.
What is sure is that this show has an undeniable streak of dark humor that will make you laugh before dousing your heart with ice water in the final moments, leaving you more than a little unsettled, perhaps a bit confused, and thoroughly entertained. The show runs Thurs – Sat, October 17 – 19 & 24 – 26 at the Empire Theatre; curtain goes up at 7:30 pm and the tickets are $15, $12 for students.
Tags: Chirs Berg, Christa Weiler, Darin Kerr, Empire Theater, Empire Theater Company, Empire Theatre, Empire Theatre Comapny, Halloween, horror game, horror video game, Ivy McGurran, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jennifer Haley, Miss Jaye, Neighborhood 3, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, subdivision, suburban nightmare, suburbia, video game, video game violence, Zach Vodden, zombie game, zombie video game