Presented by Huntington Theatre Company
Ryan Landry’s “M”
Directed by Caitlin Towland
Review by Noelani Kamelamela
(Boston) Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M, released in 1931, revealed much of his hatred and compassion regarding German society at the time. Ryan Landry’s M likewise breaks new ground while being observant of society’s duality. The Huntington’s production is ambitious with explosively funny results. Spoiler alert: nothing written here can be a genuine spoiler, trust me. A real spoiler would be able to point you towards a reasonable expectation of what will actually happen on stage. Ha ha ha!
The script is witty and referential, sometimes reverent, but mostly it is a play that could easily run on its own steam with little need for audience interaction. It never begged the audience to laugh or wail in despair. Landry’s source material pulls no punches and an audience member can easily be overwhelmed when the death of children, mental illness and metatheatrics are being discussed at the same time. In the midst of this madness, the fourth wall is broken to also gift the audience with classic romantic comedy fodder from the 1930s.
The ensemble appeared tiny on the set’s homage to black and white films set on city streets, but their presence was bolstered by ingenious puppets and props to fill in scenes as needed. Timing is key in comedy and especially when performers play multiple roles, as most did here, firm direction and cooperative ensemble work is the only way a show can successfully move to its climax. Literally tearing down the scenery, Karen MacDonald, the only actor with one part, immerses herself deeply into a role which could have swallowed a lesser actor whole.
Costumes and props were meant to evoke the classic movie as projected at times on the upstage wall or old Hollywood stereotypes while still being able to rib more modern American sentiments. Of course, the leitmotif of the murderous Hans Beckert and various other great sound cues are peppered throughout. Some bits are clearly meant for theatre people only. With a double quick 90 minute run-time, what’s fascinating is that as a whole the piece breathes and changes speeds quite well.
One thing is clear: farce is not parody. This is not a mocking send-up of the movie which gave birth to the popular rotating door of film noir and crime serials a la Law & Order that have followed ever since. M is a fully realized entirely other show, as entangled with current popular culture as it is with zeitgeists of bygone eras.
***For the Whistler in Us All