Imported from New York City, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side takes place in the present day but harks back to the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 70s.
Nearly three hours long, it revolves around four individuals who live communally and practice group sex. Their erotic sharing and oft-proclaimed love for the entire human race is the cherished mainstay of their existence.
They get to expound on their beliefs when Evan (Ben Reno), the little brother of the pivotal character, Billy (Adam Brooks) arrives for a visit. Evan is a spoiled frat boy and, with his foul mouth and twisted ideas about women, is the perfect foil for their exhortations to engage in sex with love and respect. To sway Evan to their side, everyone but Billy parades naked in front of him until finally Dawn (Heather Mertens), the resident nymph, leads him into the bedroom.
The crusade to win Evan over is interrupted when Donovan (Patrick Scott Lewis), their landlord and patron, shows up to announce that that he’s sold the building and they have three days to move out.
Donovan’s abrupt ultimatum is just one of a myriad of contrivances and improbabilities writer/director Derek Ahonen asks us to accept. Many of these annoying inconsistencies amass around Billy, who is supposed to be a newspaper editor and political organizer so incendiary he must hide from the authorities here and in Mexico. Yet it’s also inferred that he is a drug addict and an alcoholic. Actually we don’t see Billy do much of anything — except do a line of coke, brawl and/or smooch with his roommates and rail against his parents, who in the past paid for his rehab.
Ahonen also makes Billy’s lovers Wyatt (Jordan Tisdale) and Dear (Agnes Nowicki) managers of a vegan restaurant downstairs, to explain why Donovan, the owner, has allowed them to live rent-free. But like Billy’s revolutionary activities, their actual managing is never seen, merely referred to obliquely.
As the emotionally immature Wyatt, Tisdale’s performance is, by design, way over the top, as is Lewis’ rendering of the smarmy, manipulative Donovan and Reno’s portrayal of Billy’s obnoxious sibling. Mertens is tasked with portraying a naive hottie who requires the others’ protection; it’s a simplistic role that she executes with cloying coyness. Nowicki, as the mother figure within the group, comes off best by default, although Brooks at times exudes enough reflective presence to make you wonder how he’d do in a better play.
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The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; through June 14. www.PiedPipersLA.com.
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