If you don’t know what a “Brony” is, you might find it fascinating to watch a preview of “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohnuyqJyEW0), just to, ahem, set the stage for this play, The Antelope Party.
But let’s back up for a sec. Not sure what “My Little Pony” (MLP) is? Well, if you’ve ever raised a child from the 1980’s onward, you’re probably familiar with these precious, doe-eyed little pastel ponies (did I mention precious?) which eventually spun out their own cartoon series and stole the hearts of millions of children worldwide. They were even a favorite bath-time toy for my daughter in her early years (note to parents: the plastic, sparkly pony hairs are not compatible with tub drains). But I digress.
So yeah, Bronies (bro + pony, or “Pegasisters” for the ladies) are fans of MLP who have (arguably) long since passed the standard age of MLP enjoyment, who are known for dressing up as MLP’s, having MLP parties, engaging in MLP role-playing games, and going to Bronycons.
So what do Bronies and antelopes have to do with each other? Not a blasted thing, in the animal kingdom anyway, but hold on, more is revealed as the evening progresses.
When the lights come up on Eric John Meyer’s The Antelope Party, the audience sees a small gathering of socially marginalized friends dressed in MLP-themed costumes and accessories. We learn that this is a weekly Brony meetup, and apparently each of these friends has had to be “incognito” in their real lives and secretive about their MLP passion; they must change into their outfits upon arrival, or else risk the danger and ridicule of the Neighborhood Watch, a local faction of threatening haters and bullies.
As these Bronies go around the room and share their pony love and inspiration (much in the manner of a 12-step meeting), the playwright’s delightful characters begin to take shape: Ben (who identifies with the pony Fluttershy), Shawn (Pinky Pie), Rachel (Twilight Sparkle), Doug (Rainbow Dash), and Maggie (Rarity).
The first signs of trouble appear when Doug insists he witnessed Maggie getting “kidnapped” by the Neighborhood Watch, but Maggie denies it. Regarding the Neighborhood Watch, she tells everyone that “I know that they have a bad reputation, but I really believe that in their hearts they’re good people trying to do good for the town.”
Doug is so unsettled by her denial that he leaves, and the remaining friends begin their innocent pony play. Maggie is suddenly taken over by a premonition. She is tense, possibly in the grip of fear; something is coming.
A stampede. No, not ponies. Something else. Something faster and stronger. And they’re coming this way. They’re coming right for us. But not just for us. They’re headed way beyond us. They’re gaining on us now and they’ll be way beyond us before we know it. They’ll overtake us. They’ll move right through us. Always gaining numbers. Gaining speed. Getting stronger and more exact. They won’t just leave footprints. They’ll tear up the soil and make it fresh for the rain.
Maggie is the first to sense the danger, and yet she’s the first to give in to it, convincing Shawn to join the Neighborhood Watch with her, just to see what it’s like on the inside where, you know, change can happen and people can be good, right? It turns out that the Neighborhood Watch is just a part of the larger political group, the Antelope Party, and as the play progresses, a slow and meticulously constructed transition occurs–these guileless, vulnerable young people are either assimilated or hunted by the Antelope Party, and their safe, insulated world is turned upside down into a frightening, polarizing, place of fear. Their MLP identities, which represent their innocence and goodness, are trampled upon and their loyalties are torn asunder.
Edward Mawere’s comic timing is superlative in the part of Ben, as is his urgency to keep Ben safe when he’s injured by racist thugs. Lindsley Howard as Maggie is persuasive and dangerous, playing both sincerity and treachery with frightening ease. Will Dagger perfectly embodies the sad-sack Shawn, seemingly insecure and unassuming but who quickly becomes a steamrolling bully to overcompensate for his lack of spine and to gain the upper hand. Quinn Franzen and Caitlin Morris both adeptly and earnestly portray Doug and Rachel, respectively, each believing in turns that they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons; ultimately their ignorance and naiveté rip through their friendship and their relationships with the others. The last victim of the Antelope Party’s hostile takeover, Jean, a jaded newcomer who just wants to join the Magic Circle, is well-played by Anna Ishida.
Meyer’s darkly comic script is ultimately terrifying, a nod to Orwell and a brilliantly satirical parable which is uncannily prescient in today’s political climate. Director Jess Chayes brings the best out of each of the actors, and finely shapes the delicate arc which begins with laughs and rainbows and descends into fear and suspicion. The costumes by Kate Fry keenly capture each character. The sets by Yu-Hsuan Chen efficiently reflect the simplicity and humble economy of the characters’ environment, and effect some extremely smart scene transitions, one which was so clever it evoked a quiet murmur from the audience.
Outcasts in normal society, these Bronies find strength, uniqueness, and value in their fantasy world; it’s not too far-fetched to see the appeal of such role-playing for young people. In the end, when the Antelope Party goes low, the Bronies want to go high, but these innocents ultimately cannot withstand the stampede that awaits them just outside their doors.
The script is stronger than the production, but this iteration of The Antelope Party is well-conceived and worth seeing.
The Antelope Party (extended through December 4, 2021)
Dutch Kills Theater
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, in Manhattan
For information and tickets, visit http://www.dutchkillstheater.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission