Decades ago, the Lower East Side hosted flourishing communities of freethinkers. In Derek Ahonen’s abrasive farce, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, it supposedly still does.
Pied Pipers details the dissolution of a band of latter-day Lower East Side hippies, who cling to their squalid second-floor hovel—and their faux-utopian ideals—in the face of gentrification (it’s like Hair meets Rent, only less musical and decades late). Aiming for amusing provocation, the piece delivers whiny angst.
Ahonen’s polyamorous foursome confronts two interlopers—a conformist brother and the businessman bankrolling their profitless vegan café—prompting the sweaty idealists to parse weighty topics: addiction, free love, toppling the WTO. But every scene begins and ends in high-decibel squabbling; pretty soon, they all sound the same.
Without its conspicuous contemporary references—cell phones, Obama jokes—Pied Pipers would be a ’60s period piece. Alfred Schatz’s set is a patchouli-doused time capsule, strewn with tribal masks, bongos, and booze bottles.
It’s easy to see Pied Pipers as an indictment of leftist Americans—scarfing soy cheese, spouting Zapatista chants, ignoring the capitalists keeping insolvency at bay. Ahonen doesn’t pursue this theme, instead demanding sympathy for his brats while playing them for sitcom-style laughs: cheap nudity, vegan jokes. Like the original Pied Piper, these stinky bohemians don’t lead us anywhere good.