Jennifer Haley did eventually wind up playing World of Warcraft, the online "quest" game that indirectly inspired her play Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. In fact, she kind of got addicted to it.
But the play's seed was actually her then-teen-age brother's enthrallment with Warcraft, in particular, the odd way their mother handled it. When Haley's brother holed up in his room, their mom got mad at him -- but also brought him dinner at the computer so he could keep playing. She would "berate him and enable him at the same time," says Haley, by phone from Los Angeles.
Neighborhood 3 takes that concept to the next level. In Neighborhood 3's world of cookie-cutter subdivisions, all the teen-agers are addicted to just such a game. But the game's set in a virtual version of their own neighborhood, where the zombies that players must kill look just like their parents. Suburban anomie blurs into psychological horror, and then into the real thing.
Neighborhood 3's characters talk past each other. The game's goal, in fact, is to escape from the neighborhood, by any bloody means necessary. The parents are by turns absent, overindulgent and moralizing. And everyone's trapped in a community where an obsession with safety is the very thing that breeds fear.
Meanwhile, a voice-of-God narrator drily intones gaming instructions ... which helps lend the script the air of a cockpit transcript from a doomed airliner.
Haley says the play's dynamic echoes both horror movies -- where it's scarier when you can't see the monster -- and classic American stage dramas, where the conflict is over things characters can't bring themselves to say. Halo meets Alien as scripted by Ed Albee, perhaps?
The 2008 work has been produced at venues including Louisville, Ky.'s Humana Festival of New American Plays and New York's Summer Play Festival. Its local premiere is Fri., Oct. 30, courtesy of Bricolage theater company.
The intermissionless 75-minute show has a cast of four -- Bjorn Ahlstedt, Tony Bingham, Tami Dixon and Jacqui Farkas, each playing multiple roles. The innovative set, by Stephanie Meyer-Staley, features a life-sized "pop-up" bedroom. Sound and lights will place the action in "another world," promises Matt M. Morrow, the New York-based director who introduced Bricolage to the script.
Morrow says the production begins in a setting that's already only half-real even before characters start losing the ability to address each other directly, rather than through digital avatars. But even as reality's outlines grow fuzzier, the story's engine remains the real human relationships -- especially the painful ones between parents and their teen-agers.
"Some of the scenes are just hard to watch. I love that!" says Bricolage co-artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter.
Bricolage will leaven the atmosphere with pre-show happy half-hours and a lobby gaming arcade featuring everything from bobbing for apples to Wii.
As for playwright Haley, 38, she eventually backed off Warcraft.
"The thing about these games is, you start playing them and the hours go by like minutes," she says. "It's just too much of a time-eater."
Bricolage presents Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom Fri., Oct. 30-Nov. 28. 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $20. 412-381-6999 or www.webbricolage.org