Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side (Theater 80)

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
Theater 80
September 13, 2009
Derek Ahonen (writer/director)

One of the many surprises about Derek Ahonen's Pied Pipers is how traditional it is. Artists generally design a work's structure to mirror its content. But this tale of tribalist radicals is a shaggy melodrama that your grandmother could follow happily, as long as she's okay with a splash of youthful nudity. But what makes Pied Pipers a true pleasure is how its characters are radicals, its structure is conservative, and its moral substance is liberal—that is, non-judgmental.

This open-minded approach to character is Ahonen's strength (not incidentally, it's also the mission of his company, The Amoralists). His script's an actor's dream: all six roles mingle good and bad attributes, which get displayed through their actions and interactions. The quartet of titular hippies are lovely goofballs: idealistic but sanctimonious, they'd be parodies of knee-jerk radicals if they weren't so lovingly portrayed. Tastes probably vary, but I especially enjoyed Sarah Lemp's understated perf as the most mature (relatively) of the Pipers.

Like most melodrama, Pied Pipers' plot could be tighter. The second act starts to drift till a new character arrives to raise the stakes. And an out-of-nowhere epiphany helps to resolve one Piper's loss of faith. These flaws do feel a little cheap, but only in retrospect. In the moment, they're all part of a lovely, bittersweet play. Ahonen's clearly fond of his little tribe, and so, it seems, is everyone who sees this show. The Amoralists aren't just a company worth following (and I definitely will). They've created a play that deserves revivals in dozens of small theaters in hip neighborhoods across the country.


The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side plays at Theater 80 (80 St. Mark's Place., betw. First and Second), closing on October 5. Tickets?

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