The art of theatre conjures notions of verbosity, men in tights, and tearful professions of unrequited love. Few, however, would associate the video game culture with theatre, much less present virtual reality on stage.
Yet Maggie Mathews does just that in her senior directing thesis Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. Written by Jennifer Haley, the play examines a suburbia caught in the obsession with an unhealthy new computer game. The game, Neigborhood 3, uses global positioning to map out a neighborhood eerily similar to the real life neighborhood of the players. In the transitions between scenes, unnatural lights illuminate the stage and an unsettling voice over gives instructions like those heard in a video game. Using common household tools such as hammers and hedge clippers, the players must destroy monsters grotesquely similar to the real life members of the neighborhood. Without hesitating to seriously consider these similarities, the residents of the suburbia are as equally terrifying as the zombies they face in the computer game.
Mathews’s entirely senior cast excels, each actor playing anywhere from three to five characters each. Will Malkus gives characteristically solid performances as the father types (Steve, Doug, Tobias). As the mother types (Leslie, Vicki, Barbara, Joy), Marta Wesenberg evokes motherhood with both sass and vulnerability. Andrew Wallace broods his way into the son types (Trevor, Ryan, Jared, Zombiekllr14, Blake) with moody versatility. Tara Bancroft similarly displays a talent for variety in her acting as the daughter types (Makaela, Kaitlyn, Madison, Chelsea). As an ensemble, the cast brings to life the frightening decay of suburban families.
The set is disconcertingly stark, with only the structure of a house and no actual walls framing the stage. The floor between the white boards of the structure is a black and white pattern. This paint scheme reflects a chess board, and as the actors move, Mathews further reminds us that life is a constant game.
Requisition of Doom moreover raises some of the more controversial aspects of video gaming, but does not blame solely gaming for the neighborhoods many social problems. Rather, Neighborhood 3 is an allegory within itself.
“In denying fear, this neighborhood actually magnifies it,” father type Tobias reflects bitterly, “…We believe that imagination creates reality.”
The audience, in a sense, reflects the power of imagination as allow Mathews to transform a stage into an electronic portal. Mathews notes, however, that such a transition is not easy.
“The tech demands are huge,” she explains. “I have to differentiate between sixteen different characters and nine locations and find a balance between reality and virtual reality.”
The result of her efforts seamlessly blur the concept of reality until the audience members must sit on the edge of their seat and wait to see if reality can resurrect that which virtual reality has destroyed.
As the anxious themes of popular video games play before the show begins, Mathews asks a final question of her audience. “What happens when the walls we put up fail to keep evil out but succeed at keeping us inside?”
After an onslaught of scenes explore answers to this question, the play’s conclusion sends shivers through the audience. Requisition of Doom is spine chilling because it is as much a reflection of reality as it is a reflection of the absurd rules of virtual reality.