The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side is a shotgun blast of emotion and personal philosophies. While it lacks the precision and direction of a rifle-fired bullet, some of the pellets it sprays out connect.
Following the struggle of a small, tribal family in a group marriage, this message-heavy play begs to be edited down. Playwright Derek Ahonen's dialogue is often didactic and comes close to reducing his characters to mouthpieces for the beliefs they embody. He seems conflicted between everything he wants to say and all the moments he wants to capture, the result being close to three hours of hashing out all of mankind's deepest conflicts while cramming multiple major plot lines into a slice of life.
Though Ahonen's affection for these characters is clear, he is able to step back far enough to acknowledge their flaws along with their strengths. This has the welcomed effect of not labeling any one character as good or bad but simply human, and is the most redeeming quality in the writing. The performances are all energetic, but they vary in grade. Nick Lawson (Evan) creates a memorable role, starting as the story's heel and ending as one of its most sympathetic characters. Lawson digs deep into the layers of Evan, initially introducing the cocksure surface of a prickish fratboy, delving into the basic intelligence that accounts for his true confidence, then ultimately arriving at the vulnerabilities and sensitivities that make him human. There is a very satisfying arch to Lawson's work. Sarah Lemp (Dear) gives a steady performance, providing a calming base among the actors playing her fellow tribe members, who have a tendency to push. Both James Kautz (Billy) and Matthew Pilieci (Wyatt) spend the majority of their time on stage screaming and lack subtly of emotion. Kautz telegraphs to the extreme, particularly when playing out the effects of drugs and alcohol. You could spot that he is acting drunk and coked up from a mile away. Mandy Nicole Moore (Dawn) falls in between these two categories, pushing the love child routine while maintaining an endearing and likeable presence. In a similar regard, Malcolm Madera (Donovan) goes over the top with his entrance but manages to find different levels allowing for more detail in the moments that follow.
Overall this is an unabashed production, brave in its nudity, firm in its convictions, and unafraid of touching on subjects that deserve to be touched. Perhaps if it hadn't been trying to handle so many issues at once it could have done a more through job with a focused few. - C. Jefferson Thom
The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side is playing at PS 122, 150 First Avenue, NY NY, through June 28. Photo by Larry Cobra
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.