‘M’: Ryan Landry Lite is still entertaining
BOSTON — It turns out Ryan Landry Lite is still pretty entertaining.
Landry is the actor, writer, director and all-around creative genius behind the Gold Dust Orphans theater troupe, which performs in both Boston and Provincetown.
He has left the nest to perform with other area companies from time to time, including a Gothic turn in the Stoneham Theatre’s “Turn of the Screw” in 2010.
When Landry was named a Huntington Theatre playwriting fellow in 2010, there was a lot of interest in what he might come up with that the Huntington might stage.
The creator of such Orphans’ parodies as “Mildred Fierce” and “Peter Pansy,” the Huntington has given Landry a big box of theatrical toys to play with creating “Ryan Landry’s ‘M.’”
The nudity, raw language and even the sometimes scatological titles that are parts of the Orphans’ productions were just three of the tools in Landry’s tool box that he knew he wouldn’t have when he was developing “Ryan Landry’s M,” now being presented through April 27 by the Huntington Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
“Ryan Landry’s ‘M‘” is inspired by the 1931 Fritz Lang film “M” about a child murderer terrorizing a German city and being pursued by police, citizens and In Landry’s version, the time and place of the play is a flippant “take your pick.”
As the play opens, a Producer has commissioned a film adaptation of “M” and we are greeted by The Director (David Drake), who mocks us for our murderous concerns and informs us in a terribly Teutonic accent that two more murders have taken place just “while you were in the men’s room.”
It turns out that all of the young female victims look disturbingly like Gold Dust Orphans veteran actor Larry Coen in drag.
Landry knocks the fourth wall down quickly when The Man (Paul Melendy) emerges from the audience to become a member of the plot, along with the Woman (Ellen Adair), who actually began the show as the cuckoo clock which alerts Elsie’s mother to the fact that Elsie is late getting home. She never gets home.
The problem is no can find the Playwright to get him to explain what is happening. The Man and The Woman would like to find the killer, “M” (Karen McDonald) and try to save him from the rampaging mob.
Try to stay with us here. The Producer, meanwhile, would like to get rid of both The Man and The Woman and get the production back to what Lang envisioned.
The Pig, a critic (Coen again, shining in a variety of roles) whose mission is to restore order, expresses frustration at both the Producer and Director, and Landry decides to nip at the hand feeding him, as the Pig describes his mission as “Getting back to giving the subscribers what they want. A show they can sleep through.”
Therein lies a story within a story. For years, Landry felt ignored or unappreciated by critics, although he might be hard-pressed to say that the last few years as he and the Orphans have gained more traction in the mainstream press, and as Landry himself has been embraced by the Huntington.
McDonald channels her inner Peter Lorre as she slinks and slithers through Jon Savage’s remarkable set as the title character.
The wit, creativity and imagination that Landry has always shown in the basement of the Machine nightclub, which he lovingly refers to as the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, manifests itself in various ways here: the puppetry by Roxanna Myhrum — the giant Dick Tracy head and the hand that comes out outs and snatches victims were my favorite — Garrett Herzig’s projections designs, Savage’s teetering tenement buildings, and the original music and sound design by David Remedios.
While with many playwrights the most important elements are where are you going and what will you find when you get there, here the journey is the story. After the Playwright is finally found, a red pencil that will play a big part of the final 30 minutes, as the characters find getting rid of the playwright means getting rid of … them.
Director Caitlin Lowans worked with Landry in Stoneham’s “Turn of the Screw” in 2010 and in the Huntington production of his “Psyched” in 2011, and was a good choice to keep up with the manic pacing in the 90-minute production.
Landry’s talent is undeniable, and so is his determination to do things on his own terms and in his own way. It will be most interesting to see what happens and where he goes from now, and whether his “M” has a future after this.
In the end, “Ryan Landry’s ‘M’” is uneven — it sputters at times, and there’s irony when at the end he chooses to project one of the oldest and wisest theatrical canards, and one he knows only too well as a writer who is always reaching for the stars when it comes to getting laughs: “Dying is easy … comedy is hard.”
The Huntington Theatre production of “Ryan Landry’s ‘M,’” by Ryan Landry. Based on the film by Fritz Lang. Directed by Caitlin Lowans. At the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts through April 28. www.huntingtontheatre.com.