Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side by Derek Ahonen

L - Adams Brooks, Heather Merthens

By Joe Straw

There was a time I couldn’t find my keys, well at least, not right away. The morning ritual of getting out the door became a long and drawn out process, sometimes lasting twenty or thirty minutes. Near the end of my search, sweat was pouring out of every known orifice in my body and left me completely drenched.  The cats, aware of my predicament and shivering in the corner, did their best to stay out of the way.  So, after finding the right life partner, I have resolved that issue. But it took some help. – The Narrator.

There were a lot of men at the opening of this show, men who by all appearance spent a lot of time working out.  And they were kissing, hugging, introducing themselves, and greeting each other.

Three women sat in the row in front of us. Oddly, these women brought take-out to eat before the show started.  (Giving the show an extra added aroma). One thought it was, in part, an all-encompassing experience. But, a gentleman appeared and confiscated their dinner. 

“I’ll put it on the piano. You can get it there after the show.” – The gentleman.

The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side has a program but I couldn’t find it on my messy desk.  Not in the usual spot, in the back of the note pad – instead all I could find was a green menu.   

Oh!  Wait a minute! That’s it.

of the

Organic * Vegan * Cuisine


Stanton Street (at Orchard)
New York, NY 10002

Tel (212) 662-6609
Fax (212) 662-6610


Minimum Order $15

Alex Zoppa, Henry Reno & Joey Tuccio present “The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side” written and directed by Derek Ahonen, an RZT Production Produced in Association with Mumblecore, Todd Mendeloff and David Goldman through May 24th, 2015 at the Matrix Theatre.

Manic, is probably the best word to describe this play because it starts that way and never lets up.

When one enters the theatre, we observe a roommate setting, created by Ron Blanco, Stage Designer, that has the inhabitants living a carefree life, what with soda or beer cans all over the floor and the general feeling of unkemptness.   A sofa bed, badly worn and in need of cleaning, sits center stage. A likeness of Che is painted on the upstage right wall and the Anonymous mask is painted on the upstage left wall.  “Globalize Resistance” is spray painted two sides of the upstage wall, an “Easy Rider” poster is on one bedroom door, and spray painted on the other bedroom door is the phrase “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor that die.”  It is a sight without the effluvium one associates with a gym locker-room.  

Billy (Adam Brooks), in the opening moments appears to have a drug problem whether he is snorting, smoking, or drinking he is on task and not concerned with anyone else in the room.   

That’s not sitting to well with Wyatt (Jordan Tisdale), a man at this point in time who desperately wants Billy to give him his scratch “Cash Words” lottery tickets.  But Billy is too busy and ain’t coming clean.

So Wyatt takes Billy’s vintage records (e.g. Elton John and others) out of the sleeve and throws them against the wall missing Billy by inches and breaking some until Billy tells him the “Cash Words” are in the socks.

Billy is a revolutionary and activist organizer. Although in and out of a fog, he is trying to run a business that he seems to do offsite via the use of his cellphone.

Dawn (Heather Merthens) starts watering the plants in the apartment, barely noticing the two men. She pays scant attention to the two, one getting high, the other is scratching, until Wyatt gets very close to scratching the correct name.  But it’s no good, the last letter scratched is a disaster.  Now Wyatt is frustrated and turns his attention to Billy.

“I’m sorry, Billy.” – Wyatt

Billy has the knack to dulcify Wyatt’s explosive issues. And there’s a lot of “I love you.” thrown about. Dawn jumps into the act and all three start kissing and fondling.

Dear (Agatha Nowicki), the fourth roommate, bursts into the apartment and tells them the health inspector is downstairs inspecting The Pied Pipers restaurant. Wyatt throws on an apron and bolts downstairs to take care of business, coming back momentarily for a spoon to use as a fly swatter.  

Billy receives a call from Eugene (not seen) from Oaxaca telling him to come down and join the fight but Billy is not ready to die for that cause.  Billy gets a call from his brother who has arrived in the city for a visit and is waiting at Stanton and Ludlow.

Dear, the only levelheaded one, questions Billy about his brother, Evan (Ben Reno) – wondering if Evan knows their sexual situation and living arrangements.  Billy says he doesn’t and will break it to him gently as he goes out the door to pick him up.

Dawn is now worried about her living arrangement with her roommates and confides to Dear about her fear of being thrown out.  Dear, hot and sweaty, doesn’t want to be touched by Dawn.

“Not now Dawn, I’m sweating all over my body.” - Dear

 An undeterred Dawn, always in an amorous mood, leads the both of them to the bathroom to shower together.

Inspector gone, Wyatt is back upstairs shouting to Pepe (unseen) to hold down the fort.  Hearing the shower, Wyatt knocks on the bathroom door and asks if he can join the ladies. Wyatt eases in.  

Evan, plugged in and tuned out, enters the apartment with his brother.  He is studying journalism in college, but all that serious stuff aside, he is now looking for action, drinking and “whores”, and wants to starts the party now.  Evan tells his brother that their parents will not pay for any more rehab, that they are done. Again Evan says he wants to get the party started, to which Dawn obliges by coming out completely naked followed by Dear, and then by Wyatt, all soaking wet, and looking for a towel.  

Evan is suddenly uncomfortable with this newfound sexual expression but does not resist when Dawn, slipping on her panties, takes him into the bedroom for a quick roll.

When he comes out, Evan finds his brother and Wyatt making out which disrupts his intimate social being. Billy is uncomfortable with the information about their sexual family being revealed this way.

Then Donovan (Patrick Scott Lewis), the owner of the building, drops by for a visit bearing gifts and money.

The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side by Derek Ahonen is an exceptional play, exquisitely absurd, with equivocal characters that have a grand sense of their intellectual selves, not aware that they haven’t got a clue.  They are an entangled mass of humanity posing as a loving family.  And in this family’s disorderly formality, they are on a precipice, two steps away from the edge that is precipitously collapsing.

The three-act play is enjoyable from beginning to end. Still I have some thoughts about the production and the actors.  

Ahonen’s opening requires patience. Manic is a term used to describe the opening, which leaves us nowhere to go. A gradual opening with highlighting Wyatt and Billy’s intention, without being maniacal, would give us a few seconds to absorb the characters and their idiosyncrasies.

Also, Ahonen’s direction lacks a definitive stamp, the message, and from his perspective. It is a tricky to have the director and writer rolled up in one neat little package. The horrible imprecation, usually expressed from those two during the rehearsals process, is part of the progression of theatre.  But because they are one, that fight is unresolved and some things are left stagnant and impotent in the wings. That aside, this is a well directed play that needs a little more and by the time you see it things will have worked themselves to perfection.  

L - Agatha Nowicki, Adam Brooks, Jordan Tisdale

Adam Brooks plays Billy and is probably the healthiest drug addict you have ever seen until he suffers from some form of alcoholic polyneuropathy then things get a little dicey. But before that he sits around in his underwear getting very little done despite the signs of him being an activist/organizer, a call here, another call there, they seemed to be real, but we never see him doing that job except for a few phone calls.   That aside, he is the one that holds the group together, or appears to, but we really never see the drugs getting in the way of what he is trying to accomplish. And while Brooks did fine job on stage, one is not really sure what the character is trying to accomplish, his objective to the end.  

Jordan Tisdale is Wyatt, a man that has many phobias including thanatophobia, the fear of dying.  That phobia devours his every waking moment and sends him to places no one wants to go.  This is one reason he stays in the relationship because there is only one person that can help him. Tisdale brings a manic energy to the character, some moments possibly forced, but there has to be a bigger meaning to his overall objective, something that requires another level from his creative channel. That aside, this is a very fine performance.

Heather Merthens plays Dawn, a person who loves the situation she is in, but ultimately knows that it has to end somewhere down the road, that it cannot last forever.  The character is young and unaware and has much to learn, her heart is in the right place, and she is capable of learning from her mistakes.  That said, Merthens really needs to play one character off another so that in the end she gets what she wants, and she really has to want it.

Agatha Nowicki is the character, Dear.  And if the group as a collective is the body, Dear is the brains, in a metaphysical, fifth dimension, weird sort of way.  Dear always has the answers.  She runs The Pied Piper Restaurant and she is reliable to a fault.  So what does she want?  Good question, hard answer from Nowicki on this night. She’s got everything she wants, two men, one woman in a gratifying post apocalyptical-like sexual relationship.  Her every need is at her fingertips, and there’s a job in the future if she accepts the married man even though it means the end of her life as she knows it. So, what fuels her fire?

Ben Reno plays the younger brother, Evan.  Evan is an arrogant, cocky college kid, majoring in journalism, who knows it all and wants to party hard while he’s there in New York visiting his older brother. He’s also there to bring a message from their parents.  Reno gives a wonderful performance of a young man who knows little, learns a lot, and then is worldly to a fault at the end. Actually the worldly part didn’t ring true to me but the other parts shows an actor who is gifted.  It is an exceptional performance.

Patrick Scott Lewis is Donovan the owner of the building and appears late in the show. Suffice to say that he comes bringing gifts and bad news.  Lewis gives the character a grand physical life of a crazy mixed up man who has one motive in mind when he comes.  The character never gives up and repeats himself until he gets what he wants.  Conflicted about what is to happen, the sweat pouring from his brow, he repeatedly dabs himself with his handkerchief to get through the moment.  The funny thing about this character is that he is as whacked out as the rest of  the characters, but he's the one with the money. So, that makes him the wisest, or the smartest person in the room? Or does he just have chrometophobia, the fear of money. This is a grand wildly comedic performance that should not be missed.

Alex Zoppa, Henry Reno, and Joey Tuccio, the Producers did a great job.

Tiffany Thomas is the Production Stage Manager.

Dan Red is the Lighting Designer and everything worked to perfection.

Amelia Gray is the Assistant Director.

David Goldman is the Associate Producer/Publicist.

And Todd Mendeloff is the Associate Producer.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who has allegrophobia, the fear of being late.  Get there early and have a cheese sandwich at Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese.

Reservations:  www.PiedPipersLA.com

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