By Daniel Skora
Edibles are not usually something a theatre has to worry about providing for a play since audiences are willing to accept “pretend food” as a reasonable alternative. But sometimes the presence of the real thing is an absolute necessity in order to make a point or to satisfy the requirements of a script. This season the Tipping Point Theatre has had to supply pastries for two of its plays: cupcakes had a supporting role in the romantic comedy “Kalamazoo”, and cupcakes have popped up again in their current show “American Wee-Pie”, this time in a starring role.
If you’re going to see “American Wee-Pie” without benefit of having read some kind of a synopsis beforehand, it takes a keen eye to stitch together the various pieces of the play’s first act to really get a handle on where this comedy wants to take you. The title is no help, and in fact its meaning does not become clear until the play’s final moments. The play begins with the character Zed (Brian P. Sage) having a chance encounter with former schoolmate Linz (Stacey J. Weddle). They engage pleasantries about school days past and careers present before going their separate ways. We then go to Le Petit Gateau (The Little Cake), the pastry shop where Linz’ husband Pableu (Peter Prouty) does a rousing business creating and selling gourmet cupcakes. We later meet Pam (Kelly Komlen), Zed’s sister who’s returned home to help her brother bury their recently deceased mother and close out her affairs.
We also meet an ensemble of various characters all played by Wayne David Parker: Phil, the guy who formerly sat in the cubicle next to Zed where they both worked at editing text books until he was terminated from his job and died shortly thereafter. Phil makes sporadic appearances on a bicycle, tormenting Zed like a malevolent guardian angel; Malcolm, the postman who still delivers mail to Zed’s deceased mother and has nothing but kind words for Zed; and Pete Putterman, burial plot salesman extraordinaire who knows a big commission when he sees one and has designs on cajoling Pam into the business. Not a character but having a presence all their own are the screaming green pinwheels of light which appear out of nowhere and add a degree of frantic other-worldliness that’s really not a part of the rest of the production. What could all of this possibly mean?
Playwright Lisa Dillman’s theme becomes clearer in the second act. “American Wee-Pie”, in fact, is a play about second acts, in this case, the second act in Zed’s life. There are lots of indicators that up until the time when the play begins, Zed has led an unremarkable life. For years, Zed has worked in that cubicle correcting the writings of other people. He’s timid at heart, not wanting to accept the invitation from his former classmate to stop by the pastry shop. His personality is milk toast when compared to any of the other characters. And then there’s his name. Zed’s real name is Tim, and what could be more deflating and defeating to one’s ego than to be called by the word foreign countries use for the last letter of the alphabet?
“American Wee-Pie” is a smorgasbord of characters, skits, and zaniness, making this is a play whose parts are better than its whole. Some things have the ring of clues, like its obsession with the letter “Z”. When the postman invites Zed over for a game of scrabble, he ends up lecturing Zed about holding on to the letter “Z” in hopes of making a triple letter/double word score with the word “Zoology”. And then there’s the name of his old school friend. Linz is an unusual name for a woman except that there’s the “Z” at the end of her name and the fact that the top definition in the Urban Dictionary defines “linz” as “someone who tries to be the best friend they can be and to see the best they can in people”. All of that’s true in Linz’ relationship with Zed, but how many in the audience would really know that. There might also be some deeper meaning to those screeching green pinwheels that appear every so often, or the television that keeps coming on by itself in the home of Zed’s mother, but I haven’t a clue as to what it might be.
Pick and choose from some entertaining bits, but don’t expect it all to come together as a unified whole. Peter Prouty gives an over-the-top performance as Pableu, the pastry chef for whom cupcakes are a religion. Monika Essen adds color and whimsy to the proceedings with her cartoonish set of a pastry shoppe that looks like a cupcake newly arrived from Wonderland. Costumes are by Shelby Newport and lighting is by Don W. Baschal.
“American Wee-Pie”, a Michigan premier directed by James R. Kuhl, runs through August 21st. Tickets are available online at www.tippingpointtheatre.com or at the theatre’s box office which is open Mon. through Fri. 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to all performances. Tipping Point Theatre is located at 361 E. Cady Street in Northville, telephone number 1.248.347.0003.