Thursday, January 29, 2015

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

I have set myself a challenge. Starting today, I want to read one play every day for the rest of the year. If I really get going, I may try to make up for the 28 days of January that I haven't done this, so that I can have an actual 365 play year. I have so many scripts (current spreadsheet count is 1788), and I have so many that I haven't read, so here's my attempt at making a dent.  And, to help me keep all of my thoughts straight on the hundreds of plays I will hopefully be reading, I am going to blog about them. So... without further ado, my stream of consciousness reactions begin with:

Play 1: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley
2 Men, 2 Women (flexible casting for more actors possible)

I want to see this play. I already feel like I'm missing a lot about it, since I don't really know much about video games, knowledge that Haley says in her production notes is fairly crucial. Still, I find myself immensely creeped out by this script. I can't help but wonder how I would go about doing an action analysis of this play, since there are almost no characters that we see more than once. It seems too literary to argue that the major conflict is reality vs. the video game world. The characters are deliberately intended not to be too distinct from one another - they are avatars in that sense. The Mother Type, Father Type, Son Type, and Daughter Type. There are only so many options programmed into this game, just like in a suburban neighborhood, everything just sort of looks the same. Was the neighborhood built to be part of this game? Did the game merely capitalize on the cookie-cutter-ness of the neighborhood? It's a sci-fi horror story that, in some ways, feels just a little too plausible. All the teenagers in the neighborhood are addicted to the same multi-player game - a game that maps their neighborhood. So they are running around among their own houses killing zombies, trying to get to the Last Chapter (during which you can no longer resurrect), and into the Final House... which turns out to be a little something different for each of them. The play itself plays wildly with the bounds of reality, and I can't tell you what really "happened" in a traditional sense. But I think the play is much more than a cautionary tale about the desensitizing effects of video games.

The play itself is built like a video game - the conversations are choppy and clipped - coming as they might in an in-game text box. And they are always between two people - as the player might encounters someone in the world of the game. But there is no central traveler for us to follow. Instead, the audience just sort of picks the avatar with whom they most identify, and follows their journey. Haley does say that the casting can be expanded to have different actors playing each role, but I fear that would remove the mass-produced, pre-programmed angle of the experience. The neighborhood is just a bunch of repeated images and shapes - so are the characters. The build of the action is great, keeping the audience and the characters off-kilter. I never knew what was coming next - it really feels a lot like a Silent Hill type video game, with the sounds happening around you, but never really knowing exactly what is coming your way.

The other day, Brian and I were talking about the fact that World of Warcraft is now ten years old - that there are people who play that game who have no idea what a world without this game would look like. There are people for whom this online interaction with people they may or may not ever know in the real world is their primary means of socializing. So who's to say that what they do in that online realm isn't "real?" Is it any more or less real than going bowling? Or going dancing? Or going to the shooting range? These are all things that people might do socially in the real world, but they are no more connected to those "real" things like families and jobs. We want to think they're different, but I wonder if they really are?

This  play actually reminded me a bit of Dark Play or Stories for Boys by Charles Murillo. There is a similar vein of not knowing who to trust and where safety lies in an increasingly virtual world.

A few years ago, I started wondering about this shift toward virtual space. People meet their spouses online, people relax with each other online. If theatre is an art form that derives its power from an experience shared by people in the same space and time, and if more and more people are having the experience of sharing space and time in a virtual world... can theatre come with them? Should it?

I'm getting a bit off track now. Suffice it to say, this play asks a lot of interesting questions about reality and virtual reality, and the world that we live in where, increasingly, the virtual is feeling more real than the real. Or is the real becoming more virtual? Or are we all just caught in a wormhole?

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