Center Stage With…
There’s an old reviewer’s law that says: “I left the theatre humming the sets.” So. Kudos to Scenic Designer Carolyn Mraz who put together a beautiful setting reflecting the lifestyle of an ultra-privileged couple. It also houses an intricate state-of-the-art home alarm system activated by verbal commands to The Brain, nicely voiced by Hugo Armstrong. This is all good news, right? Added to the positive points are well- thought-out performances by the cast, guided by the directorial hand of Pirronne Yousefzadeh. The bad news is Ramiz Monsef’s script tries to cover too many subjects and is all over the place, ranging from the opulent life-style, unemployment, the disenfranchised or unhoused population, to vegan vs. carnivore, and Almond Milk vs. regular milk. Catching on?
The play begins with a talking head ensconced in Costume Designer Dominique Fawn Hill’s unfortunate elaborate creation. What this costume actually is would be anybody’s guess as is the endless gibberish monologue with which she peppers the audience. Once that is thankfully over, we meet Shaid, nicely characterized by Ryan Shrime, who is currently in his hilltop palatial home battling an ant invasion. Shaid’s down-and-out, ne’er-do-well absentee brother Nami, who has been evicted from his latest apartment, turns up unexpectedly asking his brother if he can take him in. Shahid agrees but to only one night. Being basically homeless, Nami is knocked out by his brother’s home, specifically the well-equipped kitchen and the alarm system which Shaid demonstrates by speaking into a glowing table-top crystal-ball type object. All hell breaks loose, as blinds are noisily shuttered, designer Pablo Santiago’s lights spin, augmented with a piercing sound, designed by John Nobori. The result of this chaos is a safe house fortress. Or is it? Enter Shahid’s no-nonsense wife Meredith, appropriately played by Megan Hill. She carries bags of groceries and in short order, her husband breaks the news that his brother is there, emphasizing but for only one night. She is agitated as she recounts having to drive past dozens and dozens of street people in an encampment at the base of the hill. She also shares that a homeless man with a beard waved at her which totally freaked her out. She has absolutely no empathy for their plight insisting that they should be relocated away from the foot of their mountain. Much to Nami’s surprise, she refers to her husband as Sean, anglicizing his name. Now the brother is hungry and in short order finds out that they are vegans and being a carnivore, the food they are preparing he doesn’t wish to eat and orders a pizza. In the interest of being helpful, he offers to participate in the preparation of their dinner and is admonished not to use too much olive oil which is “$40 a bottle.” The first “tragedy” strikes when Meredith discovers she forgot to buy Almond Milk. Being a dutiful husband, Sean offers to go to the store. His wife can track him with a leash implant imbedded in his arm so that she always knows where he is. His leash shows that he is seven minutes away from the house, but alas, he is captured by the rioters and sadly, that’s the last we see of this fine actor’s character. It’s becoming clear that there is a revolution happening throughout the city but Meredith feels secure in her fortress. Experiencing stress, she changes the music commanding, “Relax Me” and lo-and-behold soothing sounds now fills the room. Throughout the course of the evening’s unfolding threatening events, hammer in hand, Meredith vehemently defends her lifestyle saying she built that house with her own money and is going to defend what looks like the impending invasion of her home. Enter the pizza delivery guy, well played by Jeremy Radin. All I will say about him, is what you see isn’t necessarily accurate and in Act II he plays a pivotal role in the unfolding drama which is a roller-coaster ride pitting the haves against the have- nots who are demanding their share of the good life.
While some of the current issues explored in “The Ants” are germane to the present dire situation with the unhoused population, the last third of the play is peppered with old tropes and supposedly scary moments, which weren’t really scary. Although the play is billed as a horror story, that part didn’t work for me at all as the dialogue and action became ever so predictable. As the mob gets closer to the front steel-enforced door, the special effects rear their invasive heads and the audience is assaulted with extremely loud sounds and blinding light directly aimed at them. I personally had to shield my eyes from the sharp lighting. This assault on the audience morphed into blackness, which seemed like an eternity until the lights came up again. I don’t know who to blame. The director? The lighting designer? The sound designer? In any case, assaulting the audience with piercing special effects isn’t my idea of a satisfactory theatrical experience and cannot mitigate the flaws in the script. That said, the playwright does demonstrate his ability to write dialogue and that is a good jumping off point for his next play, which hopefully will be more cohesive.
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles: CA 90024
Written by: Ramiz Monsef
Directed by: Pirronne Yousefzadeh
Tuesday – Friday: 8:00 pm
Saturday: 3:00pm & 8:00 pm
Sunday: 2:00 & 7:00 pm
Closing: Sunday, July 30, 2023
Running Time: 2 hours & 30 minutes
Tickets: $39 – $129
Loud Music and Sound Effects • Strobe Lighting Effects • Theatrical Haze
Content Advisory: This production contains profanity.
Age Recommendation: 16+