The Antelope Party
Theater Wit's dark comedy explores fascism, paranoia and My Little Pony.
The world premiere of Eric John Meyer's The Antelope Party tells a cautionary tale that has become popular on the Chicago stage in recent months: In the face of real or perceived danger, an insular community gets antsy, turns on itself, and eventually reveals sinister truths about human nature. In the case of The Antelope Party, the insular community is, of all things, a meet-up group for adult fans of the children's television show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Gathering weekly in the living room of Ben (Edward Mawere), five young adults share their feelings and act out their role-play adventures in the magical land of Equestria. Ben is a gentle soul inspired by the show, Maggie (Anu Bhatt) is a creative looking for an outlet, Shawn (Will Allan) is a neurotic who finds comfort in Pony positivity, and Rachel and Doug (Annie Munch and Evan Linder) are introverts who find a rapport with the group.
When Jean (Mary Winn Heider), an anxious newcomer, arrives, she quickly realizes that she's facing more than she signed up for. Her brief intrusion into the Rust Belt Pennsylvania Adult Fans of My Little Pony Meetup Group plants a seed of paranoia that eventually grows into something much more ominous. As fascism takes root in their hometown, the self-described Bronies must decide whether they can apply the values of their beloved show — trust, compassion, and friendship — to the real world.
Meyer is a confident writer who nails the elated, obsessive banter of an enthusiastic group of fans. As the play grows darker, though, the dialogue gets less specific. The vague fascism of the rising Antelope Party isn't mysterious as much as it is ambiguous. It's satire, to be sure, walking a fine line between social commentary and absurdism, but when the play pulls its punches, the comedy suffers.
The second act constantly teeters on the edge of violence, but any real action happens offstage, and because the fascist uprising has a strict code of silence, the details of the offstage action is referred to only obliquely. Director Jerry Wechsler ramps up the tension toward the end of Act 2, but scenes end before any momentum can develop.
The cast is likable and committed to their affably fanatical characters, with especially engaging performances by Heider and Allan. Even so, none of the characters ever develop into anything deeper than two dimensions, and the same beats seem to play out many times over, offering little variety for the performers.
While the broad strokes of the play are lacking, the technical details of The Antelope Party are just right. Joe Schermoly's set is jam-packed with kitsch, from Ben's candy-colored shrine of a living room, to the fake grass around the perimeter of the stage. Costume designer Karen Krolak does a great job with the characters' streetwear, as well as the lovingly handmade pony costumes worn within the safety of the meetup group.
The entire production is colorful and bright, with many small facets that shine, but when they come together, it's not quite a whole rainbow.