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No ambiguity in Amoralist playwright’s success

This writer caught up with playwright and Astoria resident Derek Ahonen just before he was to board a plane to visit his mom in Chicago. Things are looking up for him and The Amoralists, the theater company for whom he’s the resident scribe. Their latest effort, “Happy in the Poorhouse,” has been extended through April 26 at Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York City.

After their success with “The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side,” The Amoralists wanted to create a “comedy with teeth.” The seed of the play began to germinate when Derek and the company got together and wondered what a woman would think if her husband wouldn’t sleep with her for no apparent reason, and how crazy it would drive her — this is but one of the problems Mary, the female lead, has with her husband Paulie in “Happy in the Poorhouse.” The play’s also about scaling back one’s dreams, as each of its vivid, nutty, lovable characters has aspirations they can’t quite attain, including finding $10,000 to pay off the mob.

“Maybe the American dream right now is a husband and wife who have a happy marriage,” Derek mused.

His characters are delightfully warty. For example, Joey, Mary’s mailman brother, is a good guy, but he’s also a pedophile: he’s sleeping with a girl he knows is only 16, even though she’s madly in love with him. The Amoralists are fascinated by good people who do bad and bad people who do good — at least in fiction. It’s why they call themselves The Amoralists.

It took two months to write the play, as per the company’s formula for the last three years: two months to write the play, two months to cast it, two months to rehearse, and a month and a half to perform it.

Derek, who’s 28, was born in Chicago but has lived in Astoria since he was 18. He loves the area, with its little neighborhoods and quirky shops.

When did he figure out he was a writer?

“I still don’t know I’m a writer!” he says. “I wanna be a writer. You don’t know you’re a writer, you have to keep at it.” The validation comes when he sees an audience loving his shows.

Still, he’s been writing for seven years and has gotten every one of his plays produced, which include” The Hey You Monster Part One: Pokin The Bears In a Zoo” and “Part Two: Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter” and “While Chasing The Fantastic.” There’s no script lying in a drawer somewhere. He studied as an actor with fellow Amoralists James Kautz and Matthew Pilieci at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at 30th and Madison, but liked writing better.

Along with the other guys, the Amoralists employ Larry Cobra as their spiritual adviser. He gets everyone pumped up and gives pointers before a show.

Right now they’re planning the Off-Broadway premiere of “Amerissiah,” a brilliantly freaky exploration of faith, then they’ll put on Adam Rapp’s play “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” in November. After “Amerissiah” closes around June 27, Derek has just six months to plan for the 2011 season.

“We mean to go to the highest level possible, Broadway or wherever,” he says. “We want to reach the largest possible audience and want it to resonate.”

“I gotta say things have been going pretty good for the Amoralists,” he added.” We’ve been working for 10 years now. It’s been a fantastic experience!”

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