Invigorating, refreshing and subversively uproarious.
The Pied Pipers, a fictional vegan restaurant on the Lower East Side, is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to eat there. Well, “nice” might not be the exact word. Invigorating, refreshing and subversively uproarious are more proper descriptives, and if you choose to cross the stage to visit the lone restroom, beware of the crumpled beer cans.
Four distinctive dropouts live in a squalid apartment above the restaurant, located in the type of East Village commune you might think went out of fashion in the 1970s (which gives this self-described “tribe” an anachronistic sense of quaintness). Billy (James Kautz), who might be seen as the central character, is an anachronistic anarchist, choreographing a fight over his cell phone. (“Viva Zapata!” is scrawled on the living room wall, along with the slogan “Everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves.”) He is also a seriously alcoholic drug addict.
Dear (Sarah Lemp), an ex-lawyer, runs the restaurant with the nomadic Wyatt (Matthew Piliecki), who sports a bushy beard and an impressive tattoo. Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore) is a runaway nymph who wanders the streets singing obscure pop songs and takes in about $100 a week. The group relies on the generosity of Donovan (Charles Meola), a questionable businessman whose family owns the ramshackle building that houses the restaurant and the upstairs pad.
The events of the drama are set in motion with the arrival of Billy’s younger brother, Evan (Nick Lawson). The sheltered Iowa college boy’s eyes are opened by exposure to the tribe.
“Rollicking, rebellious and raw” is how the Amoralists, a young theater company that will celebrate its third anniversary in November, describes its goals. “The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side,” its sixth full-length play, is certainly rollicking and raw, but the satiric thrust of the work is so on target that one wonders just how rebelliously amoral these fellows truly are. (The mission statement, available online, tells us that “The Amoralists work on the edge of the cliff, not three feet back.”)
The group was founded by actors Kautz and Piliecki, who are prominently featured in the play, and playwright/director Derek Ahonen, who demonstrates a strong sense of the outlandishly ridiculous and seems a likely candidate for the comedy industry of California. The production played a highly successful three-week engagement in June, and has been brought back for a most welcome reprieve (with replacement Meola joining the exemplary cast). Pity the lovers of this sort of rollercoaster-ride, in-your-face, freewheeling theatrical experience who are out of town for the summer.
The three-act play clocks in on the far side of 2½ hours, but breezes by. Ahonen starts with what seems to be a hippie-era slice of life, but artfully steers his play into something far more. One can’t imagine that he had Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing” as a model, but it repeatedly springs to mind, along with Charles Gordone’s Pulitzer-winning “No Place to Be Somebody” and John Guare’s “House of Blue Leaves.” That’s pretty impressive company, but “Pied Pipers” takes audiences on the same kind of exhilarating emotional ride.
The billboard outside P.S. 122 is emblazoned with: “Warning: Explicit Sexual Content and Utopian Ideals,” and that tongue-in-cheek admonishment does indeed apply. The nudity, while relatively brief, is explicit, and certainly thrusts the action onward. It is also, perhaps, the funniest onstage nudity in recent memory.