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American Wee-Pie at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble | Theater review

Lisa Dillman takes a familiar middle-age-crisis plot and twists it for the post-recession world.

Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux
American Wee-Pie at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

For neurotic, pensive, city-minded male protagonists, pop culture tends to herald the same solution to any crisis: Move to a small town. Just ask Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown. Or Zach Braff in Garden State. Or Philip Seymour Hoffman in State and Main. Or Tom Cavanagh in NBC’s Ed. Hell, even Lightning McQueen, the anthropomorphic automobile from Cars, achieves enlightenment by learning to live the quaint life.

But that was a pre-recession trope, before even the most earnest, folksiest “real Americans” got screwed. Lisa Dillman’s post-crash comedy, seeing a smart premiere at Rivendell helmed by Megan Carney, opens on a familiar scenario: A disillusioned textbook editor named Zed (Kurt Brocker) returns home to bury his mother and bumps into a lovable townie baker (Jennifer Pompa). Mourning his loss and craving refuge from his zombified coworkers, Zed defies the warnings of his pragmatic sister (Jane Baxter Miller) and takes a low-paying culinary apprenticeship at Le Petit Gateau under a cupcake connoisseur (Mark Ulrich as a beret-clad Frenchman). The cupcake lover at first seems like Dillman’s one over-sweetened creation, crossing the threshold between quirky and cloying, but he then takes a modern, thoughtful turn.

American Wee-Pie may get swept away by the same romanticism it seeks to rationalize, but it’s an earnest, bittersweet trip with an ensemble—especially the superb and always authentic Keith Kupferer—whose sensible performances acknowledge that being true to oneself comes with risk. You don’t have to be simple to do what you love, just adventurous enough to stomach the turnout.

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