“…They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and its themselves. And all we need do is sit back…and watch.”
Rod Serling, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
A new internet game is disrupting the order (or rather, the appearance of order) of an unnamed neighborhood that somewhat resembles a modern-day version of the eponymous “Maple Street” depicted in Rod Serling’s classic Twilight Zone episode. Jennifer Haley has created a play that explores the paranoia and the menace that exists below the bland surface of a normal community. Directed by famed filmmaker Joel Schumacher and starring The Flea's resident acting company, The Bats, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom is a play that unsettles.
The name of the game that is causing all the trouble is Neighborhood 3, and one of its unique characteristics is its ability to generate a cyber duplicate of the actual neighborhood in which the players reside, creating a graphic copy of the real world that connects its participants. It also seems to breed disassociate and even violent behavior among its players, the young people of the neighborhood, who are desperate to escape the confines of Neighborhood 3.
Each scene in the play has two actors. First we see two high school students discussing both the real neighborhood and the game. Then we meet two parents who are haplessly trying to figure out what is going on with their kids. Then we are shown scenes that depict conflict between the two generations. The strife always involves the game, which is, of course, more than just a game. All the while the swirling menace in the community grows, like the zombie threat depicted by Neighborhood 3, the techno-terror that is slowly taking over everyone’s lives whether they play the game or not.
The situation is something of a cliché; the game serves as an allegory for everything that separates the two generations. Young people are very informed about drugs (sex, music, cyber-fill-in-the-blank) and quite intimate with the dangers therein, while their parents are concerned yet clueless. The kids are all too aware of what their parents are slow to realize, violence is the only way out of Neighborhood 3. At one point Steve, a stern father played by Eric Folks, walks across the lawn of a neighbor in search of his daughter, and accidentally breaks the de rigueur garden gnome belonging to Leslie, a worried mother played by Olivia Jampol. Regarding the severed head of the kitschy object, the mother says, with some melancholy, “His time is over.”
The set is somewhat symbolic, with fake plastic grass on one side of the stage and painted grass on the other along with very different-looking trees on either end, suggesting a ghastly suburbia rended in twain; kitschy “reality” on one side and expressionistic horror on the other. The two sides are divided by a dark blue road like structure that stretches upstage, bending upward into a wall. The image suggests the track of a giant matchbox car set gone unchecked.
The action and actors are skillfully directed by Schumacher, who makes his New York stage directing debut with Neighborhood 3. The actors all perform with the same intensified naturalism typically employed by the actors in Schumacher’s films. The performances are tight and the entire play is suffused with an air of increasing menace. The anxiety is often quite palpable. The violence is theatrical and effective. The staging is elegant, uncluttered and focused. The acting is often quite fine. Frankly, I left the theatre thinking it would be interesting to see Schumacher work again in the theatre, perhaps with some more dynamic material. There was menace and tension in Neighborhood 3, but little to ponder beyond the obvious symbolism.