Teens Fall Down a Video Game Hole in 'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom' at Convergence-Continuum, But It's a Shallow Trip

It's virtual reality vs. reality without a clear answer

click to enlarge Teens Fall Down a Video Game Hole in 'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom' at Convergence-Continuum, But It's a Shallow Trip
Courtesy convergence-continuum

Do teenagers who become addicted to video games—from simple one person shoot-em-ups to sophisticated, multi-player, virtual reality conflagrations—turn into pale, affectless creatures their parents don't recognize? Maybe it's just the way the world has been since screens stole our children's brains and left empty husks in their place.

This is the subject on the mind of playwright Jennifer Haley in her often amusing but not terribly scary opus "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom." In this production at convergence-continuum theatre, multiple characters in one suburban community are played by four eminently watchable actors, but their efforts are often cramped by a script that can't decide if it wants to be a meta-romp or a serious techno thriller.

The premise is that all the adolescents in this town are obsessed with on online game enabling them to map their own neighborhood so they can hunt and dispatch zombies. The kids become distant and anti-social as they are summoned to the kill using common household and gardening tools. Why bother with an AR-15 when you have hedge clippers?

This is a juicy set-up and the actors, under the shared direction of Cory Molner and JC Cifranic, acquit themselves well. As all the "Mother Types," Carolyn Demanelis is a treat early on as she deftly captures the banal, cliché-ridden speech pattern of a suburban mom. But she could do more to differentiate her multiple characters. As her counterpart playing the roles of "Father Types," Keith Kornajcik fashions a couple interesting versions of dullard dads. Lucy Turner hits all the marks as the "Daughter Types," complete with the appropriate pouts, sneers and momentary gushes of enthusiasm.

As the "Son Types," Emileo Fernandez starts off with a perfect slack-armed slump typical of teens who only bloom in the pale light from a computer screen. Later on, his posture becomes more exaggerated and begins to look like early-onset scoliosis. And as a digital character, he captures the pulsing, hesitant moves of a pixel person.

Playwright Haley's 80-minute piece has something to say about virtual vs actual reality, but it doesn't quite get there. As more characters are added, the less the audience can focus on who is doing what, and why. In addition, the set design—a runway sandwiched by audience seats on either side—often puts the actors in uncomfortable and/or unviewable positions. It's always tricky staging a show in the confines of con-con's tiny space, but this attempt doesn't serve the play well.

A large screen is used to show still photos of various locales (a rec room, etc.), but is otherwise underused in a show that's all about screens. Con-con has a history of incorporating video into their productions, and it seems that the directors could have conjured a better way to visually support their players.

Ultimately, N-3 is caught between referring to the characters as "types" (in the program) and treating them as individuals with actual names which used in the play itself. Just because you admit to using stereotypes doesn't make them any less stereotypical. Since the playwright declines to bring clarity, it's up to the audience to do that work. And despite the acting skills on stage, not everyone will be willing to shoulder that challenge.

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
Through September 17 at convergence-continuum, The Liminis Theatre, 2438 Scranton Road, Cleveland, 216-687-0074, convergence-continuum.org.
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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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