Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom is a wonderfully fitting title for Molotov Theatre Group’s new show about a deadly video game and a sinister suburban lifestyle. Much like the play itself, the title is intriguing, if not completely coherent. It’s got a lot going on, some of it subtle and some decidedly the opposite. And, like it or not, it’s probably different from most of what you have seen before.
The play gradually builds its world and the tension that fuels it. Through a stream of interconnected vignettes, real themes of communication, family, and fear in the digital age bubble to the surface and pop with bittersweet zeal. The common thread that ties all of these scenes and ideas together, of course, is the play’s titular video game, an addictive and violent simulation that pits its players against zombie hordes that reside in a realistic rendering of their own neighborhood.
It’s a clever premise, in that it constantly evokes the show’s most interesting question: when does reality stop and imagination begin? Or – more importantly – what’s the difference?
Therein lies the wind behind Neighborhood 3’s sails but also the heaviest anchor that holds it back. The play is at its most intriguing when the real and the surreal are nearly indistinguishable. After all, we are at a point where the most exciting (and, of course, terrifying) point where video games are edging closer and closer to emulating our own reality. And when that idea is kept in mind, the play excites and scares, creating a slow-building tension that grabs you by the fingertips.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
by Jennifer Haley
Directed by David Dieudonne
Composer: Gregory Thomas Martin
Details and tickets
Unfortunately, Neighborhood 3 does not always remember – or realize – that what makes it interesting is the realism of its surrealism. Too often are we assaulted with video game clichés that would have seemed tired twenty years ago. While Brian Kraemer does an excellent job providing sinister interstitials in the form of a walk-through for the video game in question, quickly his lines fall into the trap of “glitching out,” stuttering on certain words like an overclocked computer. These computerized glitches only detract from the figure’s dread; by reminding the audience of how artificial the intelligence is, any subtlety of his role in the real world is diminished.
Similarly, even though they seemed divinely out of sight, the ugly head of unbearable Internet acronyms make a seemingly unavoidable appearance near the end of the play in dialogue that is absolutely painful to anyone actually familiar with video games or technology. The dreadful use of “LOL”s and “OMG”s is uninspired, but more importantly it is another symptom of not grasping the intrigue of the play’s own story. The dialogue is leaning on a cliché that isn’t even grounded in reality (find me one self-respecting video game player who actually talks like that).
Video games are an art form, and, as Neighborhood 3 grasps some of the time, an endlessly fascinating and relevant one. But when it gets caught laughing at the practice of playing them or fearing their very existence, any nuance is lost and a dialogue turns into a diatribe.
That is not to say that Neighborhood 3 is made of missteps. While it certainly contains some bugs, the final result is an intriguing and wonderfully designed show. It would be impossible not to mention the show’s technical triumphs, particularly its incredible costumes and its precise set, which takes the tiny DCAC space and uses projections to make it come to life. On top of that, every performance absolutely sizzles as each actor brings an amazing craft to each of their multiple roles.
Much like the video game that the play revolves around, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom draws you in and doesn’t let you go. It’s an imperfect story, but it is an entirely intriguing one. While it doesn’t always know what it is trying to say, it’s always trying and when it succeeds it does so with flying colors. It asks some difficult questions, sometimes too difficult for its own good. But in spite of its flaws, Neighborhood 3 is a thrilling tale filled with suspense, if not always sophistication.