‘American Wee-Pie’ a sweet, life-affirming confection
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 15, 2013 4:46PM
Kurt Brocker stars as Zed and Jane Baxter Miller portrays Pam in Rivendell Theatre’s “American Wee-Pie.” | Photo by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux
When: Through Feb. 16
Where: Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge
Info: (773) 334-7728; www.RivendellTheatre.org Running time:
Running time:2 hours 15 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:10AM
Lisa Dillman’s marvelous new play, “American Wee-Pie,” now receiving an altogether delicious world premiere by Rivendell Theatre, might very well turn out to be among the smartest and most original works to emerge from this country’s long and frustrating recession.
At turns the quirkiest of comedies, the deftest of satires and the most rueful blend of crushed hearts, diminished dreams and nostalgia, it might, in some strange way, even be thought of as a feminine twist on Mamet’s capitalist creed, “Glengarry Glen Ross.” But be advised: The cut-throat competition here has more to do with designer cupcakes and the “wee-pies” of the title than with subdivisions. (The real estate in question is devoted to burial plots.) And there is equal opportunity disappointment — and fresh starts — for the frequently disenfranchised mid-career men and women involved.
It all begins as a shy textbook editor, Zed (Kurt Brocker, compelling as a gentle, depressive man awakened to possibility), returns home to Gardensend, a small city in the Midwest, where his mother has just died. Awaiting his arrival (with a dental night guard in her mouth) is his sour older sister, Pam (a superb turn by Jane Baxter Miller), who works in telecommunications. (In one of the more priceless and revealing bits in the play, at once hilarious and chilling, Zed momentarily mistakes his sister for their mother.)
Before even reaching his childhood home, Zed runs into Linz (Jennifer Pompa, an actress with brilliant comic instincts). A big, exuberant woman who remembers him from high school, she assures him with an almost mystical fervency that their meeting is a date with destiny.
As it turns out, Linz and her artisan chef husband, Pableu (Mark Ulrich in fine comic form) own Le Petit Gateau, a successful bakery where he is something of a pseudo-French Charlie Trotter of the cupcake world, abounding in outlandish foodie affectations. Before long, sad sack Zed finds his bliss and jettisons his job to become an apprentice in the shop.
Meanwhile, Zed’s dyspeptic sister Pam meets Pete Putterman (the ever-inspired Keith Kupferer, who also nails every laugh playing both a warm-hearted mailman, and the raucous ghost of a former workmate of Zed’s who died immediately after being laid off.) And it’s not long before Pam, like Pete, realizes she has a flair for selling “post-mortem real estate.” So, while we hear about some finding their final resting places in this play, others are having their lives upended and reinvented.
Dillman’s writing is at once clever, eccentric, buoyant, cauterizing and poignant. And her characters, though just a little larger than life (even if they often feel smaller), are also true to the bone.
Director Megan Carney (working on Regina Garcia’s charming, poetic set) has done a splendid job of whisking every moment in this great American bake-off of a play. A fine confection for our times.