Photographer: Leslye Smith



Welcome: This is a Neighborhood Watch Community

To Dad, Life Is a Game, a Really Ugly One
November 12, 2010

The teenager’s-dad character in Howard Meyer’s “Welcome: This Is a Neighborhood Watch Community” has a name, Harris Campbell, but I like to think of him simply as Hedge Fund Guy. Maybe it’s the way his eyes light up during a telephone conversation when he says, “You think we have grounds?” For Hedge Fund Guy, life is just a series of opportunities to sue, cheat or generally get the better of his fellow man. As played by David Deblinger, he is effectively unlikable from Day 1.

In Act II of this well-acted production, presented by the Axial Theater Company, Harris states his case. When Justin (Ryan Mallon), his 16-year-old son, points out that everyday people have suffered horribly from his financial success, Harris replies, “It’s just a game, Justin, a big game, that’s all,” and “the losers feel bad.”

This is the perfect opportunity for Justin (or somebody) to point out that even if you treat life as a game, games have rules. And people who break them with such callousness and such gusto just make the world ugly. They certainly aren’t sportsmen. That no one ever expresses that point of view is a serious disappointment in what is otherwise a well-structured play.

The voice for good and the world of ideas is John Emerson (Ryan Farley), a professor who has become Justin’s friend and mentor. At least that’s what descriptions of the play say. But in his scenes with Justin, John seems more interested in encouraging the boy to lose his virginity than in being a role model of integrity. Mr. Farley plays John as an arrogant, obnoxious, favor-courting creep. In the end, rather than a battle between good and evil, we get a series of revelations about one character’s sex life.

Josh Hecht, who directed, has staged the action in three different areas of the space at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville. The audience is encouraged to get up and move around as the action does, the better to get a good view. The main set is the living room of the Campbells’ Montauk beach house, but some scenes take place at a dining or kitchen table there and in John’s cottage, where Justin meets Wendy Steiner (Jess Erick), a considerably overweight young woman, who is said to be open to sexual encounters with new partners.

The entire cast does a nice job. Ann Guilian is Harris’s wife, Lorraine, who teaches yoga to convince herself she’s not rich and superficial; Rachel Ann Jones is Leila Stanton, Lorraine’s pal, who always heads straight for the bar; Jon Lindstrom is particularly convincing as Warren Stanton, Leila’s confident, take-charge husband, who has some unfortunate ideas about how to keep an eye on your children; and Justin’s little sister, Abigail, is played by Willa DeRose, a fine little actress who is just plain adorable.