Encore Michigan

American Wee Pie is a slice of life for those seeking a second act

Review July 24, 2016 Frank Anthony Polito

NORTHVILLE, Mich.–The folks over at Tipping Point Theatre need to put a disclaimer on their current production: “WARNING: This production will leave you craving cupcakes.” For, despite its title, American Wee-Pie isn’t so much a play about pies as it is those “petit gateau,” as the French call them. And you will walk out of the theater in search of the nearest bakery!

Like with a lot of new plays (this one being a Michigan Premier), one never knows what to expect. Thanks to Monika Essen, we know instantly that we’re in for a comedy based on her brightly-colored and whimsical scenic design The backdrop for our story is a cupcake shop after all, and Essen has given us an actual cupcake-shaped shop, all curlicues and curved lines, complete with a zigzagged door straight out of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

American Wee-Pie opens with Zed, returning to his small, Midwestern hometown after the death of his mother. Zed’s a bit of a “schlub,” the boy who got picked on growing up and got out of Dodge the first chance he got. Soon after he arrives back in Gardensend, Zed runs into a former classmate, Linz. The co-owner of Le Petit Gateau, a gourmet bakery that sells five-dollar cupcakes, Linz is the antithesis of Zed. She’s bubbly and cheerful and optimistic about life — unlike Zed’s older sister, Pam, who is a bit bitter, having spent too much time taking care of Mom while Zed was off in Chicago working as a text book editor. When Zed pays Linz a visit at her bake shop, she introduces him to Pableau, her French pastry chef boyfriend. After sampling one of Pableau’s clever creations (a daikon radish-flavored cupcake!), Zed surprises his old friend and her beau—and himself—with the sophistication of his palate, prompting Pableau to take Zed under his wing as his assistant. Mayhem ensues.

Under the direction of James R. Kuhl, the play clips along at a lightning pace, with actors entering and exiting from every corner of the theater, though it does have its quieter, more intimate moments. The scene-changes are clever and fun, as the actors remain in character while they move the action (and scenery) of the play along, accompanied by the swirly “Twilight Zone” lighting of Don W. Baschal. All five actors in this production play their parts well and are well-cast. As Zed, Brian P. Sage is the schlumpy sad sack we can’t help but root for. Stacey J. Weddle nails the sassy one-liners, as Linz, and provides much of the play’s comedy, along with Peter Prouty as Pableu, the flamboyant Frenchman. As Pam, Kelly Komlen gives us a woman who’s been beaten down by life, but is bound and determined to bounce back. Komlen’s scenes with Sage, as his protective older sibling, are both touching and tender. Rounding out the cast, tackling a trio of supporting ensemble roles is Wayne David Parker; each of his characters totally distinctive. Parker’s Malcom the Mailman is by far the most endearing of his portrayals, as he shares with Zed and Pam stories of their deceased mother who, they come to realize, neither knew very well. It’s also pretty hilarious to watch Parker, as one of Zed’s former co-workers, ride a bike round and round in circles on the stage!

While Wee-Pie contains its share of funny moments, the play is far more than just funny.  Like all good comedies, the story contains a deeper meaning and will resonate with audience members of a certain “middle” age; folk’s who’ve spent too many years simply going through the motions and playing it safe. In the program, playwright Lisa Dillman says one of the themes of her play is figuring out one’s “second act,” something that “might be almost anything” and can be viewed “as either terrifying or freeing. Or both.” And if there’s one thing we can take away from “American Wee-Pie,” it’s that it’s never too late to begin one’s second act.

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