‘Mrs. Fifty’ is a bold – and no holds barred – look at empowerment
ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Mrs. Fifty’s National Bake-Off Winning Pepper Pie — like the story of her transformation from timid homemaker to tenacious entrepreneur – is not sweet.
But it is scrumptiously satisfying.
Theatre Nova here hosts the world premiere of Mrs. Fifty Bakes A Pie, Detroit playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage’s dark comedy about domestic violence and the genesis of personal empowerment through June 24.
The one-hour and 10-minute play opened June 1, with the author in attendance, to an appreciative full house, which was served pie afterward.
Ramsay-Detherage serves up a clever script that mixes baking with BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism). It’s hard to imagine how those themes could fold into one play – and more difficult still to imagine how it could be a comedy – but, somehow, this show pulls it off.
Sarah Burcon stars as Fiona, a middle-aged housewife in 1963 Dallas, at the time of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Women’s Rights Movement hasn’t yet dawned, and Fiona hangs her self-worth on the approval of her husband, who is emotionally and physically abusive and doesn’t allow her to manage her own money.
Patrick O’Lear plays the thoroughly despicable husband, John, who feels entitled to whatever he pleases because he’s a war hero, and a surgeon, and white. After demanding gourmet meals from his wife, he feeds Fiona tranquilizers so she’ll sleep through his evening romances with other women.
When she bravely challenges his memories and motives, he shoves her back under his thumb by reminding her that she’s 50, past the age where she’d ever find another great catch like him.
Jeannine Thompson is a standout as Marta, a German-born psychologist who Fiona enlists to help “make my husband love me again.” Marta, who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, also teaches Fiona how to survive her abusive marriage – but this therapist’s techniques are unconventional.
Marta explains that she is a proponent of Schadenfreude, finding pleasure, joy and self-satisfaction from the troubles, failures or humiliation of another.
It is Marta who creates Fiona’s alter–ego “Mrs. Fifty”– and gifts her with the black leather corset, yellow miniskirt, and leather riding crop to flesh out the persona.
Witnessing the dominatrix’s session with the amiable, hooded Mr. Milk (also played by O’Lear) becomes a personal “breakthrough” for Fiona that is convincingly conveyed with great emotional intensity by Burcon.
A lot of heavy themes are baking in this short play about a tyrant getting his just desserts, but it somehow rises to the lightness of comedy in the way that the movie and play 9-to-5 does.
Early ‘60s music, furnishings and references to news events effectively set the time period of the play.
Audiences that don’t get hung up on the bondage scenes will enjoy this play about a woman becoming a bolder version of herself.