Playwright: Eric John Meyer
At: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150 or TheaterWit.org; $24-$38. Runs through: Feb. 24
Most folks wouldn't find a connection between fanatical adult fans of the children's animated series My Little Pony and insidious online forces spreading outrageous rumors in America today. But that's exactly what playwright Eric John Meyer masterfully does in his paranoid world-premiere play The Antelope Party at Theater Wit.
This deeply unsettlingly dark comedy truly is a reflection of our times. Although the former reality TV game show host-turned-president isn't mentioned, The Antelope Party does reflect a light on the kinds of disgruntled Americans who make up his angry base. The Antelope Party also imagines future paranoia where friends can no longer trust each other when it comes to bullying and different versions of truth.
Things start out innocently enough as the audience is invited into the suburban Philadelphia apartment of Ben ( Edward Mawere ), who holds a gathering of "Bro-mies" and "Pega-sisters" ( the nickname for grownup men and women who take their fandom of My Little Pony to extremes ).
Ben's apartment is not only festooned with sparkly My Little Pony merchandise ( quite a visual feat of scenic designer Joe Schermoly and lighting designer Diane Fairchild ). Ben and his friends also dress up and act out adventures of My Little Pony characters like Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie ( costume designer Karen Krolak had a field day in dreaming up with these homemade equestrian outfits ).
But things start to spiral out of control at a meeting that sees a new potential member, Jean ( Mary Winn Heider ), revealing herself as a "9/11 truther." Other members, like Shawn ( Will Allan ), Rachel ( Annie Munch ) and Doug ( Evan Linder ), are also concerned when Maggie ( Anu Bhatt ) is "abducted" by relatives who are part of an ever-growing "concerned citizens group" that is later revealed as The Antelope Party.
Playwright Meyer expertly ratchets up the tension as each My Little Pony lover is coerced or threatened into joining The Antelope Party. He also plays with audience expectations around heroes rising to challenge the growing injustices, plus he shows how infectious the ideals of The Antelope Party are with the characters' outlook.
Director Jeremy Wechsler and his fine cast have fun with Meyer's upsetting material without ever getting too didactic or preachy. The ensemble also expertly shows how their characters' joy is beaten down and replaced with fear and anxiety.
Anyone who has been following the news cycle since 2016 will see the value of what the play The Antelope Party has to say. As online communities fracture what it means to have a shared American identity, it is a time to be very worried and alarmed.