Most people who change career paths make that choice due to being let go from a job or being offered a new challenge that seems to be something more rewarding. But what about those who walk away from a successful career, from a job with a great salary and excellent benefits, to go back to a more simple life that offers a more fulfilling way to express your creativity when a second chance comes along? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be that lucky?
In the Los Angeles premiere of “American Wee-Pie” at Theatre 40, the main character, Zed (Caleb Slavens, a typical everyman), a textbook editor, returns to Gardensend, his small Midwestern hometown, following the death of his mother. Upon arriving, he meets Linz (the oh-so-expressive Deidra Edwards), a woman from his past he barely remembers who saves him from disaster after Zed steps off the curb into on-coming traffic. In their ensuing conversation, Zed learns Linz and her husband Pableau (Christopher Franciosa, adding real French zest to the role) run a very successful cupcake business called Le Petit Gateau (French for cupcake).
Zed proceeds to his mother’s house where he meets up with is flighty, lazy and somewhat bitter sister, Pam (Elizabeth Lande) who is more concerned about what is on TV than dealing with her mother’s death. Zed befriends her mother’s letter-carrier Malcolm (Frederick Dawson) a real down-to-earth Midwesterner who takes great pride in doing his job well and looking out for the people along his route. “You learn a lot about people, bit by bit and day by day,” Malcolm confides to Zed, a fact which led to him to discovering Zed’s mother’s demise after not seeing her for two days.
Of course, death isn’t the only thing that collapses people’s lives. It’s a recessionary moment in American history and companies crumple along with people’s means of livelihood. Even though F. Scott Fitzgerald was once quoted as saying that there are no second acts in American lives, “American Wee-Pie” proves he was very wrong, and that a second chance can come along when you least expect it.
But unlike many of us, Zed doesn’t lose his job. He decides to walk away from it because in his old hometown, of all places, his life’s second act begins. Following his bliss to be a more creative soul, he becomes an apprentice to Linz’s husband, a master cupcake chef. Things are going along smoothly until the shops regular customers start cancelling their regular orders. As it runs out, a new cupcake warehouse has invaded the town, offering more variety at far less cost. It doesn’t take much to see this as a example of what happens to many Mom and Pop businesses when Walmart or other large warehouse stores come to town.
Then, one inspired day, Zed uses his good old American ingenuity to invent a new delicacy: the wee-pie – a cupcake inside a pie crust inspired by his Mother’s recipe. Zed’s new creation proves to be a blessing to everyone around him, not only saving Le Petit Gateau, but also inspiring his sister to turn her life around by seeking a more successful career, courtesy of funeral plot salesman Pete (Steve Keyes, ever-involved with his phone keyboard), after losing her job. It may seem a very strange choice for her, just as making cupcakes seems odd for Zed, but who are we to tell anyone else what their next step in life should be? All that matters is to do what works for you; a good lesson each of us should remember.
The theme of second chances is also expressed in dream-like sequences when Zed is visited by bike-riding Phil (James Schendel), a former co-worker who got laid off and then died in front of Zed as he was leaving the building. Phil serves as a physical representation of Zed’s mind, encouraging him to just “go for it” and take the steps necessary to move forward with his life.
The simple set design by Jeff G. Rack allows the action to switch between the cupcake shop to Zed’s mother’s house to several different street scenes. As directed by Stewart J. Zully, the many short scenes seem a bit jarring, switching from location to location too quickly to allow for much thought. Lighting design by Ric Zimmerman focuses our attention, while Linz lovely pastel costumes by Michèle Young seem to make her a cupcake unto herself. Outstanding sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski highlights every single scene with realistic background noise.