Review: “That Pony Feeling” Gets Stampeded in "The Antelope Party"

The Antelope Party

Written by Eric John Meyer

Directed by Jess Chayes

Presented by Dutch Kills Theater at the wild project

195 E. 3rd Street, Manhattan, NYC

November 4-21, 2021 [Update 11/19/21: Extended through December 4, 2021]

Quinn Franzen, Anna Ishida, Will Dagger, Edward Mawere & Caitlin Morris. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder
I remember loving playing with my sister’s My Little Ponies as a child. We would stage battles between my Legos and her ponies—GI Joe wasn’t my thing. But I had forgotten about them in adulthood until a few years ago when, during the holidays, I saw my niece and nephews playing with the same ponies that my mother still keeps around her house for when the kids visit. Seeing the now-faded plastic toys brought up few emotions for me, but evidently, for some in my generation, those ponies are at the center of their social lives. Awareness of Brony culture entered the mainstream with the 2014 documentary A Brony Tale, which follows the adult men who are fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a 2010 iteration of the 1980s franchise.

Now, I completely understand the queer attraction to ponies, unicorns, rainbows, sparkles, magic, and all that. But Bronies do not tend to be gay or effeminate. And thank god (!!!) they are not predatory even though they are obsessed with a franchise marketed to girls ages 2-11 and first united on a 4chan forum. They are, as Kevin Fallon says, “Just guys. Dudes. Dudes who like My Little Pony.” That’s fine. I have no issue with that given we are a generation that still goes around asking what Hogwarts house we are in—ok, I am being a little cruel to my fellow Millennials. We all cope with our 80s childhoods in various ways. And while the phenomenon initially focused on men, adult women fans are known as Pegasisters.

This phenomenon is what Eric John Meyer’s play The Antelope Party takes on as a group of committed Brony and Pegasister friends gets torn apart when they begin to see the magic in their friendship replaced by a hellish nightmare. The play opens as friends Shawn (Will Dagger), Doug (Quinn Franzen), Ben (Edward Maware), and Rachel (Caitlin Morris), wearing their pony gear, meet in the the magic circle segment of their playtime in which they can discuss anything without judgement or interruption. Two things are off, though. First, they are joined by a newcomer, Jean (Anna Ishida), and one of their regular members, Maggie (Lindsley Howard), is not there and unable to be reached by phone. They shortly learn both that Jean is just looking for a community to be a part of even though she thinks the pony group is a 9/11 truther group, and Maggie has been kidnapped by a newly formed neighborhood watch.

Once Maggie joins them, they express outrage that she has been kidnapped, but Maggie assures them she is fine and that the neighborhood watch is just looking out for their safety because a lot of “gutter punks” have recently started camping in the area. To shake off the shock of Maggie’s kidnapping, they turn the room into Equestria, the setting for My Little Pony, and continue their pony play. But their playtime is interrupted when they hear a faint galloping that grows louder, clearly indicating that the antelope are coming.
Will Dagger & Lindsley Howard. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder
And the antelope come in full force. The rest of the play shows the breakdown of the group as each member eventually pledges allegiance to the neighborhood watch, which calls itself The Antelope Party. The ponies’ fuzzy, rainbow headgear is soon replaced with trucker caps with the Antelope’s logo on them. Even Ben, who is the victim of a racist Antelope attack, and Doug, who leaves the group for a while because of Shawn’s growing authoritarianism, eventually cave and join the Antelopes. The action culminates as all the friends have been overtaken by the ideology of the Antelopes and its rhetoric of safety. They give into unfounded fears of “gutter people,” and the closing scene shows just how far they have all descended into the authoritarianism and violence that finds Jean, a woman just looking for a community, physically now unable to leave that community.
Edward Mawere & Caitlin Morris. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder
The show gets a bit of a rough start as the actors are a somewhat stilted in the initial scene, but wow do they ever make a recovery. The acting is superb. Dagger’s Shawn is convincingly terrifying as a leader of the Antelopes. Howard’s Maggie slips between sickeningly sweet and violently demanding in the same breath. And Maware as Ben and Morris as Rachel give convincing performances as uncomfortable collaborators afraid of the authoritarian community they have unwittingly joined. Ishidia’s Jean gives a performance in the final scene that makes the entire play worth the watch. I am sitting here writing this still concerned about her and thinking she should have stuck with the 9/11 truthers.
Caitlin Morris & Quinn Franzen. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder
I see a lot of off-Broadway theater, and this is one of the most ingenious uses of a set buildout on a small stage that I have seen. The versatile set serves at least five different settings, and the lighting and sound design become increasingly more complex and add realism to the increasing terror happening on stage.

The hollow rhetoric of safety is a big theme of the play. This isn’t surprising for a generation of adults raised to fear everything from Halloween candy to stranger danger and who now find comfort in playing pony. And I think it is obvious this is what Meyer critiques. These are characters who without ponies or antelopes could relate to and help each other cope in truly magical friendships. I asked an audience member after the play their thoughts. They said they could relate to the polarization in it that reflected our own times. They then made the comment that “all attempts at creating utopia end in dystopia.” I disagree. I think sometimes we just have a hard time acknowledging utopia when we are in it. But obsession and the need to mitigate friendships through larger communities, Meyer shows, has nothing but destructive results. Belonging, it seems, can offer a false sense of safety.

-Joseph Donica

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