By Benjamin Petit
Staged in a brick room at the DC Arts Center with fewer than 40 seats, a cast of 5 people, and a small assortment of murder weapons, Molotov Theatre Group’s Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom straddles the border between “minimalist” and “grungy”. Yet what it lacks in flashiness it makes up for with dark humor, disturbingly relatable characters, and actors that can mimic a nervous breakdown so impeccably you will squirm in your seat.
Based in a gated suburb possessing an already-eerie feeling of being a little too perfect, Neighborhood 3 centers around a video game that grips the neighborhood teenagers like an incurable addiction. Eager to escape their own dysfunctional lives, they immerse themselves in a virtual world of zombie slaying where they battle for survival. Using satellite technology to replicate the neighborhood, the game starts out unsettling and quickly levels up to terrifying as it materializes in the real world.
The whole concept behind the play is ambitious, not only in the sense that it tries to bring a digital space onstage, but because this kind of horror story runs a high risk of being cliché. Gore, fiction entering the real world, and a constant sense of impending doom are all easy sources for cheap thrills. Tacky, edge-of-your-seat creepiness is easy to come by, but what saved the play from this fate was its cast of substantive characters. There are teenagers immersed in their video games because real life is eating them alive. There are suburban parents whose demons – substance abuse, incest, dysfunctional families, etc. – are thinly veiled by manicured lawns and homogenous homes. Even in a bizarre fantasy about video games coming to life and assaulting people with lawn tools, there’s something eerily realistic in this play that playwright Jennifer Haley and a stellar cast bring to life.
For the type of viewer who enjoys neat and well-structured story-lines, Neighborhood 3 might be only marginally more satisfying than your average horror story. If you’re the type of person who needs a story to follow a structured series of events and end with a perfect cadence, prepare to walk away a little frustrated. But if you’re the type of person who thrives on elaborate, twisted “what-ifs” – terrifying fantasies about real life that don’t gleefully entertain so much as fascinate, thrill and disturb – then Neighborhood 3 is your kind of game.
Neighborhood 3 is a nightmare version of real life in all its white-picket-fenced glory. It isn’t scary because there’s blood, or because there are zombies, or because there are impressively gruesome murders committed before the audience’s very eyes. It’s scary because it feels authentic, in the way that could only be manifested onstage by a wildly talented cast. Running from July 9th-August 2nd.