“Neighborhood 3” Probes Technological, Generational Disconnect

Julia Peterson, Arts & Culture Editor

The Oberlin Student Theater Association opened its three-day run of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, a play set in a world where the line between a zombie-infested video game and real-life suburbia blurs, in Wilder Main Space Thursday night. The play follows the in-game interactions between numerous characters, depicted by four main cast members, in a seemingly idyllic suburban neighborhood. The final level incorporates a game map based on their own subdivision and zombie adversaries that bear striking resemblance to the teens’ parents, resulting in a chilling convergence between gameplay and reality. Performances of Neighborhood 3 will continue tonight and Saturday 8–10 p.m.

The narrative plays out mostly in vignette scenes, as different combinations of parents and children in the neighborhood interact with each other and come to grips with a world that is quickly becoming stranger and more disturbing. As each pair of characters interacts within the universe of this off-kilter world, all the different facets of relationships, communication and disconnect come to light.

OSTA’s sound and set design mimic video game aesthetic, with surreal lighting and an original score played live on a custom-built instrument by double-degree sophomore Mobey Irizarry Lambright.

“[It] is a pretty scary play, so I really wanted to make scary sounds,” Irizarry Lambright said. “ I think the goal of the sound designer is to elaborate where the actors and the director leave off. So I’m … bowing the string on the instrument, and depending on the speed at which I bow, it sounds really rhythmic. I’m also using [digital] effects that, depending on how they’re set, sound pretty jarring. I’m also bowing the cymbal, which is a really terrifying sound that just makes you cringe.

The play also draws on the anonymity of being able to take on an image and username entirely divorced from a real-life identity. The characters in ple play are portrayed as avatars based on family archetypes — a father, mother, daughter, and son. The four principal cast members each play multiple different characters within each archetype.

College first-year Emily Strand, who plays the daughter avatar, spoke about some of the challenges and opportunities that come from representing multiple characters, having to take on a different persona from scene to scene.

“[We have to] understand the differences in the [real-life] family dynamics, the experiences and personalities of four different [characters that we are playing],” she said. “Everyone who is in [each] scene knows what the background is, so it helps to be able to come in with that and build on what the characters are experiencing together in that moment.”

College sophomore and director Jackson Zinn-Rowthorn also emphasized how these archetypes tie into the play’s narrative.

“A lot of the theme of the show is about the willingness to conform to a basic norm,” he said. “So while they are different characters, they are largely grounded in the same sort of ideas and the same worldviews. … That said, of course, we have worked on a lot of physical differentiation and vocal differentiation.”

“There are a lot of suggestions of violence, but it’s really cartoonish and it’s never in your face.” Zinn-Rowthorn said. “Largely, I think [the play] uses violence as a warning — to say that this is the result when you don’t look at each other and you don’t listen to each other. Miscommunication turns to anger, which turns to fear, which turns to violence.”

Playwright Jennifer Haley is well known in the theater world for scripts that engage with the impact of technology on relationships and human interactions. College sophomore and assistant director Jad Seligman spoke about how this particular production addresses and highlights those themes as they appear in the script.

“The play uses [communication] as a tool to create moments between different characters by making the connections that they have rare, but making the few ones that they do have very special.” they said. “I’d say the climax of the play is predicated on when a connection works, when it misses; about trying and failing to create connections — especially between family.”

The play does not stagger under the weight of these themes, but rather seeks to balance them with humor and levity. There are moments where characters are played poignantly and moments where they are played to comedic extremes. There are family troubles and the struggle of parents and children trying to bridge generational and technological divides.

“It’s scary, it’s kind of creepy and weird, but it’s also funny in a kind of dark way, and that’s a cool combination of things,” said College first-year Maddie Henke, who provided the recorded voice and face for the video game’s narrator. “I hope that people … realize that it’s a comedy, but also realize that there are going to be some serious parts and it does offer a commentary on … disconnects and how we don’t really communicate sometimes in our society.”

“It’s kind of dark, but there are some comedic elements in there, too,” said College sophomore Yue Zhao, who plays the father archetype. “There’s a moral to the story and something you can gain from watching it.”

For Zinn-Rowthorn, the comedic element was what drew him to the play in the first place.

“Largely, the reason that I chose this play is because it’s really fun,” he said. “In the theater community here, there [are] a lot of very serious dramas about things going on in the world — activist-oriented plays. This is very much not that. It’s my favorite kind of theater, and I just think that it is going to be a really fun viewing experience. Neighborhood 3 is nothing like people have ever seen, … but it’s filled with tropes that will be especially familiar to people who grew up in suburbia. We’re satirizing that.”

The play illustrates a generational disconnect and lack of understanding that will also resonate with many in attendance.

“[There are] a lot of young people here who maybe could relate to not being able to connect to their parents and relate to the video game aspect of the show,” said College first-year Amanda Stavis, who plays the mother archetype.

Zinn-Rowthorn also recognized that within this over-the-top, campy context, the play confronts some important themes.

“We are telling a story with a message,” he said. “It’s largely about what happens when people don’t look at each other or communicate … and [are] too interested in upholding their own image and conforming to one standardized norm. All sorts of real, true things get lost under that wallpaper.”

College first-year Quentin Nguyen-duy, who plays the son archetype, expanded on how technology exacerbates problems of communication and conformity in the world of Neighborhood 3 as well as our own.

“The main message I want to resonate with the audience is the value of interpersonal relationships and community and how they help us grow and shape our experiences as humans, and not to devalue that in a world which is increasingly bifurcated and divided between digitalized reality and family,” he said.

The cast and crew of Neighborhood 3 is primarily composed of first-years and sophomores, many of whom are fresh faces for OSTA. College sophomore Meg Parker, the production’s stage manager hopes that the show and others like it might encourage more Oberlin students to become involved with student theater.

“We have a really strong department, but our student theater could use a little love in a lot of different capacities,” Parker said. “I think a lot of students come to Oberlin having done theater in the past and then they pass it up when they get here, and I believe that it should be an accessible resource for students to pursue that passion in a variety of capacities.”