Saturday, February 01, 2014

Review: American Wee-Pie: A cupcake of sweetness in every performance

Tracy Leigh and David Goldstein in American Wee-Pie (Paul Bestock)

AMERICAN WEE-PIE
SEATTLE PUBLIC THEATER
Through February 16
 

We're having a terrific start to 2014 with theatrical productions this month. One of those productions you should definitely plan to see is Seattle Public Theater's American Wee-Pie by Lisa Dillman. It is a sweet morsel of a play (couldn't resist!) that focuses on a very identifiable human condition: what the heck do we do with ourselves once we are on this earth? Is it enough to just 'have a job' or is life supposed to be more than that? Where is the joy? The answer: the clowns bring it. 

Personality-less, humorless Zed (Evan Whitfield) has come back to his boyhood home to bury his mother. The only other family he has is a sharp-tongued, impatient older sister, Pam (Alyssa Keene), who has impatiently already packed up almost everything in the house. He isn't even certain that he has many feelings about losing his mother - none that he can access, at least. 

He bumps into school friend Linz (or Lindsay) (Tracy Leigh) who gallantly says that when other kids thought he was retarded, she defended him and said he was shy. Linz is the great heart of the play. She is full of feeling and bigger than life and readily admits that she had a shitty time in school, too, and could be very much like Zed, but had found her man, who loves her completely for herself. She takes the meeting as a sign that destiny is afoot, and Zed is to quit his boring, disconnected job to come work for them in their cupcake shop. 

Linz' man is Pableu (David Goldstein), a cupcake auteur who is trying to create the perfect cupcake, with ingredients like root vegetables and odd spices. Some of the funniest scenes involve elaborate tasting rituals that amp up the clowning aspect, though they don't necessarily add too much to the story. But these small savored moments are part of the fabric of small moments that Dillman seems to want to point to and say, 'Hey, these are the roses you're supposed to be smelling.' 

There is a friendly local postman who made friends with Zed's mother (one of several roles for Stephen Grenley), and who befriends Zed, as well, over Scrabble. There is a burial plot salesman (Grenley again) who somehow brings such enthusiasm for his trade that he entices Pam into giving up her job to try it. Zed gets more and more emotionally available and alive as the play moves on. 

The ensemble here is lovely and Whitfield draws the audience into applauding his successful reclamation of life. He plays mostly the straight man to the other four clowns of varying depth. This is subtle clowning, the exaggeration of human characteristics to make us laugh, but all tightly within the confines of a certain reality. Leigh has mastered her character, in particular, to be everything silly, bumbly, and yet raging with love. 

Director Anita Montgomery moseyed over from ACT Theatre to create this little dream cake and gets topnotch production help with gorgeous sound design from Robertson Witmer, quirky character costuming from Candace Frank, and subtle lighting from Tim Wratten. A somewhat static set, mostly a cupcake looking shop, by Andrea Bryn Bush, works well for some scenes, but not quite for those in the family home. But at least scene changes are immediate. 

The play was first performed in 2013, so it's very current in understanding our recession and people getting stuck in jobs they are afraid to move away from with great unemployment still rampant. But Dillman is there to encourage you not to be afraid and to give change a try. Who knows? You might like it a lot more than what you've got right now. 

For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call (206) 524-1300. Comments welcome on this blog.