Stage Raw: AMERICAN WEE-PIE is “feel-good family fare”

Like the cupcakes in her story, playwright Lisa Dillman’s American Wee-Pie may be too sugary for some palates. It was for mine.

Bearing hints of some old Jimmy Stewart movie (or perhaps a whimsical animated film), it features oddball characters living in a mythical small-town America during tough economic times.

The guy to root for is a burned out book editor, Zed (Caleb Slavens), who returns from the big city on the occasion of his mom’s funeral. When heading home, he meets Linz (Deidra Edwards), a former classmate who hugs him warmly and ebulliently even though Zed can barely recall who she is.

But Linz stampedes through his reticence and invites him to the gourmet cupcake house she operates with her husband Pableu (Christopher Franciosa), a wildly creative patisserie chef.

The visit establishes that Zed possesses an extraordinary palate. Linz and Pableu persuade him to quit his job and join their enterprise. All goes well until a big box competitor starts undercutting their prices and stealing their customers. Zed must figure out how to save the business or forsake this new and satisfying vocation.

Will he or won’t he? The outcome is never in doubt. Mildly amusing, never hilarious or truly imaginative, American Wee-Pie is feel-good family fare, the sort of inoffensive comedy suitable for older children should you need to bring them. The effort to be zany – daikon radish in a cupcake recipe? — often falls flat. Both the plot and its ensuing attempts at humor frequently feel contrived.

The performers give it their best shot, however, and fortunately for the audience, they largely succeed in rescuing the production from disaster. Slavens delivers a single-note performance, but in this case that note is so finely honed and appealing that the performer is pleasing to watch. The buoyant Edwards is also extremely likable, as is Frederick Dawson as the friendly mail carrier with whom Zed bonds as he mourns his mother’s passing.

As Zed’s neurotic sister, Elizabeth Lande has to work very hard in a stilted role, but she still manages a measure of authenticity. Franciosa mugs a lot as a hypersensitive Frenchman, but then he’s tasked with instilling life into a part that’s little more than a cliché. Stewart Zully directs.