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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Stage REview

Landry’s ‘M’ brings a light touch to a dark subject

Yes, Virginia Wimberly Theatre, there is a play called “Ryan Landry’s ‘M.’ ” What’s more, your august stage is the setting for the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of it. Ryan Landry is, of course, known for spoofing musicals and melodramas in Gold Dust Orphans parodies like “Mary Poppers” and “Mildred Fierce” in the gritty underbelly of the gay Fenway nightclub Ramrod. Landry is not known for taking on works about serial killers of children — especially one as dark as Fritz Lang’s 1931 pulp parable. Then again, when people in “M” call the police and “confess” to the serial killer’s crimes so they can get a free trip to Berlin and their picture in the papers, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. “Ryan Landry’s ‘M’ ” proposes that laughter is the best medicine.

As is his wont, Landry has tweaked the original. A Producer has put up big bucks for a theatrical adaptation of “M.” Somehow, though, a Man (Paul Melendy) and a Woman (Ellen Adair) who weren’t part of the movie have got onstage and into the plot. And no one can find the Playwright to get an explanation. The Man and the Woman decide they need to find the killer, M (Karen MacDonald), and save him from the mob. But someone will have to save them from the Producer, who wants the play to hew to Lang’s original vision and would be happy to eradicate the interlopers. To that end, he hires the Pig (Gold Dust Orphan veteran Larry Coen) — that is, a critic — to restore order. While all this is going on, a dark shadow reminiscent of Peter Lorre (Lang’s M) haunts the stage, and a figure in a fedora and trenchcoat — apparently the janitor — keeps pushing a broom along the floor and sidling up to little girls.

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