Matthew Pilieci, Mandy Moore, and James Kautz
in The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
(© Larry Cobra)
Matthew Pilieci, Mandy Moore, and James Kautz
in The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
(© Larry Cobra)
In the first few minutes of Derek Ahonen's The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, now at PS 122, characters scream at each other, throw things, do drugs, and make out. This pattern then continues, with slight variations, for two hours and 45 minutes, including two intermissions. While the production (also directed by Ahonen) is not without humor, it ultimately comes across as wearying and lacking depth.

The action is set in the present-day, but revolves around a quartet of characters who seek to emulate the free-loving "tribes" of the 1960s flower children. Billy (James Kautz) is an anarchist, drug addict, and alcoholic; Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore) is a street singer and free spirit; and Wyatt (Matthew Pilieci) seems to have serious anger management issues -- and runs a Vegan café with Dear (Sarah Lemp), a former lawyer. All four live together upstairs of the restaurant, having sex with one another in every conceivable configuration and making up what they feel is a self-sustaining community.

A visit from Billy's misogynist and homophobic brother Evan (Nick Lawson) poses some serious challenges to the relationship dynamic of the quartet. And then, the group's benefactor and landlord Donovan (Malcolm Madera) arrives bearing gifts, as well as some bad news. The plot meanders, and there's no good reason why the play needs to be three acts, as the first two could be shortened and combined fairly easily. In particular, the long, Act Two segment in which Billy, Dear, Wyatt and Dawn try to explain the way they live to Evan is dramaturgically clunky and could be edited down. However, it's the final act that is the most problematic, and overrun by clichés.

Sadly, the characters never get fleshed out enough beyond the types that they start out as. As Billy, Kautz seems to have two levels: manic and zoned out. Pilieci certainly has loads of energy, but doesn't often seem to know what to do with it. He does, however, deserve kudos for an extremely daring nude scene in which he enters with a full-on erection. Moore presents a one-note characterization of Dawn. Lemp fares best out of the central quartet, giving Dear a more complex psychological make-up than anyone else in the play. Lawson goes a little too far over the top in the first act, but provides subtler work as the show goes on. Madera is amusing to watch, even if his character is very slightly written.

Ahonen broaches several interesting issues, including reconciling radical lifestyle choices with familial expectations, the guilt and hypocrisy that often drives philanthropy, and the personal failings of idealists who want so much to change the world, but simultaneously engage in self-destructive behavior. Unfortunately, while he presents these topics earnestly, he does so in too simplistic a fashion.