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Originally published Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 6:16 AM

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‘American Wee-Pie’ cooks up a sugary-sweet second chance

Lisa Dillman’s sugary comedy, about a man finding his bliss as a pastry chef, runs through Feb. 16 at Seattle Public Theater.


Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER REVIEW

‘American Wee-Pie’

By Lisa Dillman. Through Feb. 16 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N. Seattle; $15-$32 (206-524-1300 or seattlepublictheater.org).

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Life isn’t like a box of chocolates, in Lisa Dillman’s antic comedy “American Wee-Pie,” but it’s close. It’s like an assortment of boutique cupcakes, some aggressively sweet and some spiked with a little pesto mayo and wasabi.

The cupcake metaphor lands squarely on your plate while watching Seattle Public Theater’s West Coast premiere of this theatrical confection. And the comestible similes are irresistible when assessing this play’s bright and cloying flavors.

The idea of baking your way to your bliss is reminiscent of life-changing cookery quests in feel-good films like “Waitress” and “Chocolat.”

Dillman attempts a similar souffle (with some added post-recession tang, but less romance) in “American Wee-Pie,” in which the meek, mild textbook editor Zed (Evan Whitfield) returns to his Midwestern hometown to attend his mother’s funeral, and discovers his inner pastry chef.

Whitfield’s hangdog Zed is presented with the choice of two recipes for success. One, from his critical, stressed sister Pam (Alyssa Keene), would require him to liberally pepper his bland existence with go-getter corporate ambition.

The other, advocated by Zed’s gregariously eccentric former classmate Linz (Tracy Leigh), calls for generous portions of daring, creativity and dropping out of the urban rat race to join the burgeoning cupcake empire of Linz and her baker husband, Pableu (David Goldstein).

Guess which he chooses.

This sort of self-actualization fable requires a light hand, both in its wacky-comedy gambits, and its earnest wake-up-and-smell-the-cake epiphanies.

There are laughs here, but the actors, under director Anita Montgomery, who staged an early reading of Dillman’s play at ACT Theatre, tend to overcook gags that require gentler handling.

Costumed by Candace Frank in a frenzy of stripes, polka-dots and a little cupcake hat, Leigh’s Linz comes on like the manic driver of a clown car. Thankfully, she eventually grows on you in the more nuanced second act.

Goldstein is also cartoonish, but consistently humorous, as another comic archetype: the petulant “French” chef. Most laughable are his psychodrama-like blind tastings of such creations as a Norwegian rutabaga cupcake with Sri Lankan cinnamon ganache.

The hardest character to swallow is Pam, played as an overbearing screecher by Keene, who could effectively dial it down several notches. She, too, becomes more lifelike, but not soon enough.

But the love connection between Pam and a preening burial-plot salesman (Stephen Grenley, who is more effective tripling as an avuncular postman and a ghostly ex-colleague of Zed’s), doesn’t wash. And a lot of frosting covers the script’s darker themes of grief, guilt and financial ruin.

“American Wee-Pie” is well-meaning, and so eager to charm it may win you over. But like the hybrid baked good Zed invents (referred to in the title), its quirky sweetness is not for all palates.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com



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