Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom—Theater review by Helen Shaw
Anyone who's gone to the Flea is familiar with the curtain speech. A “Bat” (one of the venue's non-Equity ensemble) tells us that marketing is basic at the cash-strapped theater, chirping “If your phone rings…answer it! And tell the caller that you're at the Flea!” We usually chuckle, delighted at the can-do attitude of this scrappy theater. Doing much with little! Lovely.
This time it's different. As the voice welcomes us to Joel Schumacher's production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (emphasis theirs), we remember that tickets to this Off-Off Broadway show—whose chief virtues are an eager cast and a let's-make-a-show spirit—can cost up to $105. That's…bananas. Neighborhood 3 is cheap-and-cheerful postcollege community theater; Jennifer Haley's script is a bagatelle, a brief and uncomplicated guignol about a video game gone wrong. It also feels long at 70 minutes, so even if this genre—let's call it “darkness lite”—is your jam, you should pay as little as possible and have a beer first.
A voiceover walks us through the titular game, offering us tips on how to torture a cat (“Leaving it half alive will boost your Ruthless Rating!”) and survive the zombie apocalypse. Neighborhood 3 maps its action on to the player's neighborhood, and so the disaffected high school students we meet are about to reach a “Final House” level that's a spookily accurate representation of each one's own home. We're sometimes in the game, sometimes out, and soon that distinction blurs, bloodily.
Haley (The Nether) rewrote the kids-are-not-alright script so that the legions of Bats could take part, and the episodic result (we keep seeing different pairs having the “this is creepy” realization) drains the play of its suspense and character investment. A few performers, notably Eric Folks as a blustery dad, ramp up the kitsch factor, but in the main, the interchangeable scenes of twentysomethings playing bummed teenagers or hot moms makes the show feel like an acting showcase. First-time theater director Joel Schumacher, having helmed films like The Lost Boys and Batman and Robin, knows the value of schlock, but despite some solid scene work, he hasn't mastered theatrical pacing. Basically, everybody here is learning, which I'd normally celebrate. But then that ticket price sticks in my craw again. I guess it comes down to one question: Would you pay big money to watch a noob play Fallout 4? If so, boy, I've got the show for you.—Helen Shaw
Flea Theater (Off-Off Broadway). By Jennifer Haley. Directed by Joel Schumacher. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.