An oddly fascinating play which leans heavily on its symbolic roots, THE ANTS enjoys its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in 2023. Playwright Ramiz Monsef takes a pointed and often poignant look at some of society’s most pressing current social problems, including job loss, homelessness, an uptick in hate-fueled violence, and methods people use to feel safe in the face of possible danger, real or imagined. At the same time, Monsef has created developments which can be amusing but also horrible in their implications.
Ramiz Monsef and Pirronne Yousefzadeh – Photo by Aaron Epstein
Nami (Nicky Boulos) lost his job and is reluctantly forced to ask for help from his well-heeled brother Shahid/Sean (Ryan Shrime). His brother is married to Meredith (Megan Hill,) a creative genius who designed and built a McMansion on the top of a hill which doubles as a fortress for the faint-hearted. For Nami, it is either sleeping on the street after his eviction for not paying his rent or couch surfing at his brother’s palatial home. As it turns out, his sister-in-law’s dream house sports some of the most state-of-the-art security that money can buy – all monitored through “The Brain (Hugo Armstrong),” a deceptively small device which has almost god-like skills. Clearly, Meredith is not at all happy when her husband offers his unhoused brother a place to stay for the night. On top of that, Nami eats meat – a definite no-no for the committed vegan couple. And then the unthinkable happens. Shahid leaves the safety of his home to buy some milk for his perpetually angry wife and falls into the hands of “the ants.” Suddenly, the world erupts into violence as unknown mobs fight to take over the earth – while Nami, Meredith, and a pizza delivery man (Jeremy Radin) huddle together in their impenetrable citadel on the hill. Will “The Brain” be able to save them from the chaos outside? Will the three inside the fortress be able to tolerate each other for much longer? Will “me” ever be replaced by “us?” Who are “the ants” anyway?
Nicky Boulos and Ryan Shrime – Photo by Aaron Epstein
Skillfully directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, THE ANTS slowly builds up tension as the world collapses around the talented cast. Kudos to Boulos and Radin, who elicit many audience chuckles. But above all this is a play in which the production crew is crucial to its success. Carolyn Mraz’s scenic design typifies a certain wealthy yet essentially cold environment. Dominique Fawn Hill’s costume design fits the tale – most especially her depiction of the detritus tossed away by our society. Of particular note are Pablo Santiago’s lighting, John Nobori’s original music and sound design, and Hana S. Kim’s projection design. Without the latter three contributors, THE ANTS would most certainly fall flat.
Nicky Boulos and Megan Hill – Photo by Aaron Epstein
Most striking about THE ANTS is its use of symbolism. In fact, almost all of the tale seems to cover up a clandestine story that may hide yet more surreptitious accounts buried even deeper down. THE ANTS has been described as a horror story, but the horror may really be in the actions of the people involved. For audiences who appreciate cyphers, secrets, and hidden signs, THE ANTS will open new doors. Audiences who are concerned about society’s ills will also enjoy this journey into its own special form of madness. Artificial intelligence – in all its ramifications – here we come.
Megan Hill and Nicky Boulos – Photo by Aaron Epstein
THE ANTS runs through July 30, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is located at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online.