Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side (The Amoralists Theatre Company, PS 122)

By Le-Anne
mucho nudity! not for the kiddies! (under 17 not admitted) • smart • funny • a tad long, but well executed • promising and exciting playwright that I hope to see more from in the future.

Matthew Pilieci, Mandy Nicole Moore, and James Kautz in The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side. Photo courtesy of Larry Cobra.

BOTTOM LINE: A balls-out, must-see (no pun intended).

Why is it when penises and vegan food are thrown into the mix everything is taken just a little less seriously? Not so with up and coming playwright Derek Ahonen’s The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, presented by The Amoralists Theatre Company (although many laughs are had at the exposure of said body part and the mention of things like “unturkey” sandwiches). Ahonen explores utopian ideals brought on by an obvious conflict with the dystopian world our society is fearfully plummeting toward, with broad humor and even broader views. A detailed design, stellar cast, and bold direction bring to life this necessary story of four struggling friends.

The meticulous set (by Al Schatz) and costumes (by Ricky Lang) are a throw-back to the '60s and early '70s, a clear representation of a time when utopian ideals had perhaps their largest resurgence since Marx. The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side takes place over the course of a week in a small apartment. Billy (James Kautz), Wyatt (Matthew Pilieci), Dear (Sarah Lemp) and Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore) are a sexually open foursome, who are in a committed relationship with each other and live together above a vegan restaurant in present-day NYC. They each have their individual struggles, addictions, and fears which are challenged first when Billy’s younger brother Evan (Nick Lawson) - your typical Midwestern, close-minded, frat boy - comes for a visit and next when they are dealt a hard blow from friend, employer, and landlord Donovan (Malcolm Madera) that upends their lifestyle.

The entire ensemble of actors is electric. Kautz plays a sad man behind blue eyes that is touching and complex. Pilieci’s comedic timing is perfection and he displays great range from fearless aggression to heartbreaking vulnerability. I fell in love a little bit with Moore whose doe-eyed ingenue is wistful and moving while Lawson does an excellent job of fulfilling a stereotype without succumbing to it’s pitfalls. Lemp has a likability about her that is a must for the hard-as-nails matriarch of the tribe and Madera rounds out the cast with simplicity and rapid-fire comedic delivery. Ahonen has a delicious ability to weave subtle hypocrisy into his characters. It makes some of the characters' personalities less appealing while it makes others unexpectedly more appealing and in the end it makes each one of the characters infinitely more interesting.

When you check out The Pied Pipers, I promise you will have your daily allotment of penises, butts, boobs, and bushes. I’ve mentioned this in past reviews but I’ll say it again: I am not one for gratuitous sex and unnecessary nudity, violence, or words (i.e. anything for shock-factor, it’s just not my bag). This show, however, had more roughness, sexuality, and naked bodies than I have seen on stage in a long time and not once was it distracting or unnecessary. Ahonen (who also directed the show) deserves a giant kudos, as does his cast, for understanding the difference between artsy-fartsy and skill.

I am also not one for hippie-dippy-tree-hugging-free-loving-why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-ing. Puhlease. Stop. Enough already. Somehow this play avoids this trap yet manages to explore existential, philosophical, ecological, moral, and social questions without being heady or pretentious. Ahonen, both as director and playwright, bombards the senses and the mind with thought-provoking challenges that race through this reviewer's head on an almost daily basis. He creates one of those "you kinda had to be there" experiences. That being said, I suggest you go ahead and be there.

(The Pied Pipers Of The Lower East Side plays at PS 122, 150 1st Ave (at East 9th St.) through June 28th. Performance times are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5:00pm with an added show on Wednesday June 24th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25, $15 for students/seniors and $10 for PS 122 members, and can be purchased online at or by calling 212-352-3101. No one under 17 will be admitted. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including two intermissions. For more info, visit

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