Theater Review: THE ANTS (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on July 16, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


The subject of “haves” and “have-nots” in the theater is nothing new, having been explored from The Greeks to Molière. More recent hallmarks are the Industrial Age’s The Hairy Ape by O’Neill; Odets’ Depression era Awake and Sing!; and John Osbourne’s “Angry Young Man” hurled in the world’s consciousness in Look Back in Anger. The gulf has been widening between the classes since Reagan offered the trickledown theory, which did nothing except kill the middle class. And now with corporate greed and skyrocketing prices for rents and food, 61% of Americans are more afraid of not paying bills then they are of death.

Ryan Shrime and Nicky Boulos

I’d say that America is fairly ripe, if not already beginning to rot, for the subject of economic privilege to hit theater stages in an impactful way. At The Geffen Playhouse, playwright Ramiz Monsef is taking on the distance between the working class and the wealthy upper class using a fantastic Twilight Zone premise. If there were an award for Best Story for a Play, this would win. If there were an award for an over-budgeted misguided production, this would also win.

Nicky Boulos

On a stormy night high on a hill above the cacophony of the city, Nami (Nicky Boulos) arrives at the luxurious home of his brother Shahid (Ryan Shrime). Recently canned and now homeless, Nami just needs a place to crash, much to the chagrin of Shahid’s wife Meredith (Megan Hill), who believes that with hard work anyone can make their way to the top because that’s what she did. A tech mastermind, she designed this technological safehouse — complete with a glowing virtual assistant (“Brain” voiced by Hugo Armstrong). Outside, a homeless-led uprising has brought pent-up frustrations and injustices to the fore. The wealthy have been running this show long enough. As they gather in Zombie-like clusters around the city, it seems that even a delivery man (Jeremy Radin as The Pizza Guy) can’t be trusted (superb fight direction by Julie Ouellette).

Nicky Boulos and Megan Hill

If The Ants had been an 80-minute one-act instead of 150 minutes (with intermission), and if the pseudo-horror comedy script didn’t have some truly bizarre and unexplainable elements, and if actors hadn’t resorted to overwrought screaming to find some subtext, and if Monsef hadn’t thrown a slew of unnecessary f-bombs in there (may I ask at this juncture why theater companies hire dramaturgs, Olivia O’Connor?), and if we had a different director than Pirronne Yousefzadeh, who is supposed to fix these issues, then we have a play.

Jeremy Radin

There are enough moments both hair-raising and suspenseful that warrant a slimmed-down production, but an attached prologue and epilogue actually serve to diffuse the commentary on today’s caste system. This is one show that does NOT need anything meta, especially with such sterling production values. The creative team for The Ants features scenic designer Carolyn Mraz, costume designer Dominique Fawn Hill, lighting designer Pablo Santiago, sound designer John Nobori, projection designer Hana S. Kim, and magic consultant Dominik Krzanowski.

Megan Hill and Jeremy Radin

photos by Aaron Epstein

The Ants
Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Thurs at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on July 30, 2023
for tickets ($39-129), call 310.208.2028 or visit Geffen Playhouse

Megan Hill

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