M 5
April 13, 2012
The Rogue in Planet Ant Theatre, Reviews, new/original plays

Planet Ant Theatre’s commitment to new works was never in question: its monthly Ant Farm staged reading series has previously shepherded new scripts to successful full productions. However, M 5 marks the first time the company’s late-night series has been specifically earmarked to showcase favorite Ant Farm selections. Helmed by director Sara Wolf Molnar and with a capable quartet of comic performances, this original show feels like an ode to the short play — that is to say, something rich and strange.

All five scripts (“Mile High,” by Leah Darany; “The Little Things” and “Homeland Security,” both by Audra Lord; “Mother,” by Jacquie Priskorn; and “Bloody iPhone,” by Marty Shea and Ian Bonner) are brief enough to tuck into a single act, barely skimming an hour’s running time. Each bears the brand of preposterousness that serves as the quirky signature of a short-form comedy, although the devices and executions vary. Against the elaborate setup leading to a swift roundhouse punchline, for example, is a slow-burning monologue of increasing perturbation. Whereas one play roots into the comic possibilities of forced conversation amid sustained discomfort, another gets its framework out of the way in a staccato of short establishing scenes. Strengths and weaknesses show in the writing for each, but the end product amasses into a kaleidoscope of the form’s overall potential.

Such bizarre and indignant perspectives are further served by a resilient cast of four. Versatility and commitment are the name of the game in this setup, and the many standout roles are a testament to the performers’ success. Robyn Lipnicki Mewha fairly bleeds maniacal cheerfulness in a coffee klatch that turns a little too revealing. Under the spell of new technology, Chris Korte turns his internal turmoil external with explosive control. Down in the dumps Jaclyn Strez earns laughs with the misplaced devastation of an unstable, inescapable traveling companion. In an imposing position of power, Patrick O’Connor Cronin guides a rambling, coasting scene with calculated finesse.

Drawing heavily on uncomfortable humor, the production grows progressively weirder and stronger in tandem. The generally literal first half calls for little in the way of visual trappings; these are normal conversations and scenarios, some littered with local in-jokes, that slide subtly into their peculiar landscapes. Yet Pal Molnar’s set and properties turn batty as the show progresses, establishing worlds with rules different from our own; the unique looks come at the price of extended bustling scene changes, but designer Barton Bund’s catchy sound design is there to pass the time. By the final play, the tech kicks all the way into high gear, sending the production out on a trilling high note of sidesplitting insanity. And herein lies the success of M 5: combining the complementary strengths of five thoughtfully curated short plays in order to underline the nutty factor, turning five wonky steps into a wholly ludicrous and satisfying comic journey.

M 5 is no longer playing.
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