Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
Well, don't look now, but it's coming from inside your own house, in Jennifer Haley's gripping, bizarre horror story. Four actors race through a break-neck series of costume changes to populate a faceless suburban street in Anytown, USA. The teenagers there have been overcome by a popular computer game that blurs the line between the real and virtual worlds, with consequences that can scarcely be described.
The sense of dread is supplied, not just by the dank and turgid background noise (so essential to any dark video game, I suppose), but also by the strange sense of entrapment that pervades every scene. Each of those scenes is a two-person affair, with one party being uneasy or gathering their suspicions, while the other seems to be spinning a web of intrigue around them, capturing them word by word. In my notes I have the phrase, "people keep ensnaring each other!" This helps set up the violent freak-out to come, with bloodstains that appear and suddenly disappear from walls, and doormats that may say either "Welcome" or "Help Me" from moment to moment. There's also plenty of humor in the early going, and plenty of examples of where our Levittown neighborhoods themselves seem created precisely for the post-neo-gothic scenario.
Pamela Reckamp is outstanding as a series of suburban moms, vaguely aware of their kids' online distractions, in one case torn between respecting her son's privacy and a girl's insistence that she break into his bedroom. John Pierson plays a tremendous variety of dads and other grown men with supreme agility. Everyone knows "the grizzled mystery man," the stock character from horror stories, and after all of Mr. Pierson's touchy-feely, awkward and humorous appearances earlier in the evening, it is this odd, quiet, warning character that really takes our breath away. Maggie Conroy plays all the girls on the block, some nice and some very odd and disconcerting, in a way that just slightly levitates above the school-aged scandals of our daily papers. And Greg Fenner does nicely as the boys, earnest and easily consumed by adventure, until things begin to go wrong, when he kicks up the scary to unexpected heights. Each actor presents a dazzling aspect, or two or three, throughout the evening.
Chuck Harper directs this eighty-minute nightmare, though it's so densely packed with detail and filled with strange lighting and sound effects, that it seems more like a full two-hour adventure. And techies Catherine Krummey and Erin Keller scurry on and off with lightning efficiency during the blackouts, setting up the next scenes of confounding wariness to follow. If you think you can never be scared again, this show will certainly eat away at your own smug security.
I wasn't going to mention this, but the "risers" that support the audience (at least, on the far side of the studio theater) shake alarmingly whenever people clamber up to find a seat. This actually redounds to the benefit of the show, adding a further layer of danger to the overall experience as you contemplate a Day of the Locust type of collapse. Couple that with the growing awareness that the actors are just barely making it out on stage after their latest frantic costume change, and you've got yourself a surprisingly compelling, all-encompassing fright-fest.
The idea that tragedy arises when parents lose touch with their children, and when teenagers fail to recognize their parents for what they are, is not terribly new. But so much about this production, the authenticity of the acting and the stark, freakish set and plot developments, seem both new and urgent. Through September 26th, 2009 at the Kranzberg Theatre, Grand and Olive, two blocks south of the Fox. For information call (314) 289-4060 or visit them online at www.hoticitytheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
Photo by John Armstrong