Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom
Theatre proves a most relevant medium for addressing issues about video game culture
Reviewed by Dan Solomon, Fri., July 20, 2012
Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale
Through July 28
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.
For those who complain that in our viral culture theatre has lost its relevance, consider Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. This is a play about what appear to be zombies stalking a low-key subdivision, staged during the Summer of Bath Salts, and it addresses themes that are probably another year or two away from being part of the mainstream dialogue about the culture we've found ourselves living in. Chalk that one up to the art form – theatre's low cost and quick turnaround let it react to the present and anticipate the future.
Or put another way: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom is about video games, and it asks questions about the culture surrounding America's most profitable form of entertainment that it's past time to start asking. The play centers on a suburban neighborhood where the teenagers are all addicted to a game called Neighborhood 3, which maps the player's subdivision into a multiplayer zombie shooter. The parents in the neighborhood, meanwhile, have noticed that things are getting weird outside, and their children are too attached to their controllers and keyboards to notice. As the game goes on, players reach the Final House, and the lines start to get blurry.
In Poison Apple Initiative's production, Zac Carr and Olivia Frierson play all of the teenagers, while Michael Kranes and Cassadie Peterson handle the adult roles. Some of the immediacy that Neighborhood benefits from takes its toll on the staging: Carr and Peterson, who do most of the heavy lifting, are up to the task of playing multiple characters convincingly, while Frierson and Kranes struggle to connect with the people they're trying to portray. The set's minimalist in ways that suggest that things were rushed rather than deliberate, and kinks like a nigh-unintelligible voiceover during scene changes weren't properly worked out. But this is (relatively) new work, having debuted in 2009, so the script by former Austin playwright Jennifer Haley, which shines in dialogue and storytelling, is what's most important here.
What price gamers pay for doing horrible things in a virtual world is one question that the gaming media has struggled to ask seriously, as developers thrill to their ability to raise ethical dilemmas that they're ill-prepared to properly address. In the theatre, though, where the uncanny valley is far away and the comfy confines of the couch are abandoned for real people doing real things in front of you, those questions are visceral and hard to ignore. Smashing a zombie's face with a hammer is a good time on a PS3, but watching it enacted a dozen feet from you onstage is less comfortable. Credit Neighborhood 3, Haley, and Poison Apple Initiative for utilizing the strengths of an "irrelevant" medium to better explore the weaknesses of our most popular.