Game over for lame thriller

Where has Daniel Thomas May been lately? For some 10 years, he was among the busiest and most celebrated actors in Atlanta. Not counting his annual gig in the Alliance’s “A Christmas Carol,” though, May’s last stage appearance was in the fall of 2010: “Circumference of a Squirrel,” a typically accomplished solo piece he performed in Aurora Theatre’s studio space.

As the show-biz cliché goes, it seems that what May really wants to do is direct. I missed (so to speak) his debut with “Slaughter Camp,” a horror-movie spoof he mounted for Dad’s Garage last summer. Back at the Aurora studio, May’s sophomore effort is “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” about a zombie video game run amok in suburbia.

Perhaps the new director is carving out a niche for himself, because the common ground between the shows is unmistakable. But where one poked fun at the thriller genre, the other is utterly serious about it. In “Neighborhood 3,” that game overtakes the minds of the kids who play it, invading their “reality” to gruesome ends.

Jennifer Haley’s drama offers little in the way of social commentary. Instead, it bogs down in convoluted descriptions of the game or cryptic discussions about its not-so-hidden dangers. Hearing other people talk about it or watching them get to play it isn’t quite the same as truly experiencing the game for ourselves.

Another muddled device in the show casts each of the four actors (Bryan Brendle, Rachel Garner, Greg Bosworth and Jaclyn Hofmann) as variations of a respective “type” (father, mother, son, daughter). Despite their quick costume changes, telling them apart and keeping them straight can be a chore — how this one relates to that one, what’s happening to whom at any given level of the game, when they’re playing human characters or computerized avatars.

The highly technological fantasy world of a video game is hard to adequately simulate in the context of a live theater production, especially one as modestly budgeted as Aurora’s. May frames the set with four large monitors, periodically using them to display text instructions about the game or images of the household tools that serve as weapons against those virtual zombies (and actual people alike).

Throughout much of the play, the screens carry feeds from a couple of cameras positioned around the stage. The idea, presumably, is that audience members are seeing the game as it unfolds, if not right in the middle of it themselves, but the conceit is too crudely executed to be very effective.

May’s lethargic pacing takes too literally one of the rules of the game, that “all action must appear unhurried.” Aside from the production’s technical limitations, its bigger problem is his failure to generate any palpable sense of tension or dread.

You’d never expect to find May, the masterful actor, in something like “Neighborhood 3” or “Slaughter Camp.” Even as a fledgling director, it’s almost as though he were slumming with such stuff. It’s his career, of course, but here’s hoping he hasn’t completely abandoned the proverbial day job he’s so good at.


Theater review

“Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom”

Grade: C-

Through March 4. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $15. Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222.

Bottom line: A murky misfire.