Spoiled little shits are the real bogeymen in Jennifer Haley’s cheeky 2009 comic zombie tale, which marks a promising debut partnership between Strawdog Theatre and Chicago directorial veteran Joanie Schultz. Unsatisfied by their Hummers, McMansion gaming rooms and parents’ Vicodin, a group of teenagers gets hooked on a MMORPG—that abbreviation spells out massively multiplayer online role-playing game—which resembles a Wilmette Grand Theft Auto. Using satellite images to map out the players’ actual neighborhood, caffeinated brats use landscaping equipment to hack their way through zombie hordes and, either through a glitch or by design from a nefarious neighborhood association, their own family members.
It all plays out in a way as ridiculous as that sounds, but that’s not to Haley’s discredit. Neighborhood 3 joins a time-honored horror tradition of kids being punished with abhorrent repercussions for relatively minor transgressions—in this case, eating in their rooms and spending too much time online away from their parents. Like science fiction, thrillers present unique challenges onstage, which Schultz and scenic designer Mike Mroch overcome with a tech-savvy, media-centered set that’s appropriately ADHD.
Schultz’s game four-person ensemble strikes a convincing and satirical tone, but it’s not until the last 15 minutes that the suburban characters transcend caricature. When they do, it’s delightful: a legitimate sense of doom in a theater.