Play: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
Group: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Building, 501 North Grand
Dates: Sept. 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: From $15 to $25; contact 314-289-4063 or www.hotcitytheatre.org
Story: Everything seems normal in Neighborhood 3. The parents in this blissful suburb, most of them stuck in terminal adolescence, believe that all is well since they coddle their kids and provide them with the latest and greatest in technology. The real estate maven, the corporate manager, the alcoholic judge and the stay-at-home mom who gave up her job all go about their business even if they aren’t exactly sure what their teens are doing.
The teens, meanwhile, all seem to be engrossed in a new video game that appears to have downloaded the grid for their neighborhood into its schematic. An ominous voice intones instructions for them on how to navigate between different homes and how to kill the “zombies” that threaten them at night. One of the dads, a surly sort who keeps his grass cut absurdly short, seems to have an idea about what’s happening, but his bizarre ways turn off the real estate mom, despite the wails of sirens and police horns that creep disturbingly closer. So, what really is happening in Neighborhood 3?
Highlights: Jennifer Haley’s taut, one-act drama was produced at the 2008 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville and the Summer Play Festival in New York. Haley has an MFA in playwriting from Brown University, and her talent is evident in her ability to create compelling characters and situations within the brief (85 minutes) time span that many modern audiences seem to prefer.
Her disturbing cautionary tale is given sterling creative support in HotCity Theatre’s presentation. Director Chuck Harper keeps the mood menacing and the action lean as his quartet of performers easily move back and forth between a number of vacuous characters in the locale, all labeled “Girl Type,” “Boy Type,” “Father Type” and “Mother Type.” While one of the teens proclaims early on that “Sometimes it’s fun to be sick,” Haley sets about to underscore the dangers that occur when pre-occupied parents substitute material possessions for communication and discipline.
Other Info: Technical work is excellent. Harper’s sound design includes his ominous, stentorian voice proclaiming in robotic tones the desired response from the addicted teens in order to advance in the game’s sick plot, as well as disturbing outbursts of raucous, head-banging music. Sean Savoie’s lighting moves between the vapid daytime ‘bliss’ and the horrors of the night, where the neighborhood grid is dimly illuminated from below, and Mark Wilson’s set design effectively conveys the similarity in houses at either end, all bridged by a restrictive steel framework. Jerry Russo’s properties and Scott Breihan’s costumes complement the story appropriately.
The players in this sobering drama offer a number of fine, spine-tingling performances. John Pierson plays a distant dad whose marriage is dissolving and his relationship with his daughter is becoming increasingly distant, and is eerily effective as a dour sort who has buried stillborn triplets in his backyard and has an innate understanding of how his suburb is rotting.
Pamela Reckamp does fine work as a series of mothers, one an empty-headed sort who wants to be pals with her kid’s friends, another a woman trying to keep her family together despite her husband’s alcoholism, and a professional whose business intelligence can’t compensate for her communication deficiencies with her son. As the various teens, SIU-E students Maggie Conroy and Greg Fenner show sure and steady understanding of their roles and inject each character with believability and disturbing vitality. Their professor (Harper?) should be justifiably proud of their accomplishments in this first-class effort.
While it’s too predictable and overly excessive in violence, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom underscores the smart play selection that HotCity customarily makes and offers a suitable counterpoint to well-worn and overly familiar fare one can often see elsewhere.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.