'The Antelope Party' review: Friendship is magic, with exceptions

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'The Antelope Party' review: Friendship is magic, with exceptions
Edward Mawere, left, Caitlin Morris, center, and Will Dagger in the play “The Antelope Party” at the Wild Project in New York on Nov. 3, 2021. Paranoia takes root among five friends who fear their “My Little Pony” role playing game is being targeted in this new play at the Wild Project. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Juan A. Ramírez

NEW YORK, NY.- Eric John Meyer’s “The Antelope Party,” a presentation of the Dutch Kills Theater Company that had its New York premiere recently at the Wild Project, uses a classic movie thriller structure to explore the potential real-world dangers of wish-fulfillment fantasy groups.

But is the kind of harm that befalls the Rust Belt Bronies Meet Up Group for Adult Fans of “My Little Pony” unique, or can it happen to any collective?

These bronies and pegasisters — as adult fans of the franchise are known — gather regularly with the hushed secrecy of political subversives at the Western Pennsylvania home of their genial host, Ben (Edward Mawere), some time in the 2010s. Those who have answered Ben’s online call for a role-playing game include Maggie (Lindsley Howard), a young woman who lives with her protective father; the aloof 20-or-30-somethings Doug (Quinn Franzen) and Rachel (Caitlin Morris); and Shawn (Will Dagger), who joined after his revelatory AMFE (After My First Episode) moment.

One night, Maggie makes a misstep. Dressed in full-on Pony attire, something the group’s members usually avoid to dodge harassment, she is picked up by members of a neighborhood watch on her way to Ben’s apartment. That same night Jean (Anna Ishida, appropriately baffled) shows up at Ben’s place, but soon realizes she has mistaken the group for another — 9/11 truthers like herself — and is promptly shown out. These incidents set the Rust Belt Bronies on a paranoid spiral, which is made worse when they discover that the neighborhood watch is actually a group called the Antelope Party, whose mission is to rid the country of homeless people, street kids and other “wild dogs.”

The shift is a bit of bait-and-switch: Instead of examining the intricacies of “My Little Pony” fandom, “The Antelope Party” has more in common with sociopolitical films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in which suspicions about the mysterious “outsider” stoke fears among a particular group of people. Meyer explores these dynamics, and how people gain power in social groups: Is it granted, won by force or is it more unpredictable?

The ensemble members are convincing in their portrayal of vulnerability. Dagger’s wimpy Shawn is a believable beta male whose desperation for social standing leads him to dark places, and Howard’s Maggie is perfect as the peppy type whose “daddy’s girl” veil hides a sinister reality. The charismatic Mawere is intensely watchable as Ben, a host who is eager to please.

In her direction of the cast, Jess Chayes leans into the characters’ cautiousness in social settings by smartly avoiding to stage action when none is called for, though the play never feels sluggish. And Yu-Hsuan Chen’s clever one-room set — the walls fold in and out to create spaces outside of the group’s meeting spot — emphasizes their precarious hold on this made-up world.

As in her work on WP Theater’s “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord,” another pessimistic tale of a group’s descent into chaos, Chen shows an innate understanding of the intimacy of small spaces, and of how the clutter strewn about amounts to an intensely personal ecosystem. Here, Ben’s fuzzy neon pillows and “My Little Pony” throw blankets are paraphernalia that can be quickly hidden, should a judgmental outsider arrive.

By taking various precautions — part childish desire to protect their cool little club, part survival response to actual danger — the group believes itself impervious to outside forces. But “The Antelope Party” crafts a clever little awakening for them, and anyone who shares their belief that there is safety in numbers.


Additional Information:

'The Antelope Party'Through Sunday at Wild Project, Manhattan; theantelope.party, Running time: 2 hours.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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