PREVIEW JANUARY 23, 2014
By Lisa Dillman
A middle-aged textbook editor returns to his hometown for a funeral and finds himself pulled along on an unexpected journey of self-reinvention. A heartbreaking new comedy about recession, career second acts, and the sometimes life-altering wonder of a small good thing.
Directed by Anita Montgomery.
An Interview with American Wee-Pie director
By Cole Hornaday, SPT Communication and PR Manager
Q: You’ve have had a longer courtship with American Wee-Pie than most. Tell us about your relationship to the play?
AM: I had read some of Lisa Dillman’s plays before this and really liked her work, so whenever something she’d written came across my desk I would think, “Oh great! This is going to be an interesting read!” When I read American Wee-Pie I was charmed immediately. I laughed out loud—I thought it was that funny, but the stakes were high. That is something that I love about Lisa’s writing, and one of the things I love about this play; she doesn’t hit her theme too hard so it lands more deeply.
Q: Tell us about workshopping American Wee-Pie at ACT?
AM: Lisa was pretty far along when the play first came to me, but I invited her to take part in our new Construction Zone series of readings at ACT. For two days we got the chance to sit around a table, with a wonderful cast, and just really think through the piece and talk a lot to Lisa about it. The actors gave her a lot of insights.
Q: Were you involved in more Lisa Dillman projects beyond American Wee-Pie?
AM: After the early Construction Zone reading of American Wee-Pie, Lisa and I worked on another play out at Hedgebrook (https://www.hedgebrook.org/) called The Walls. It was a play about women and mental illness in the early 1900s—a time when they essentially just put women away. We also worked on a piece in its very early chrysalis phase--a piece that didn’t even have a title at that point. It was about a female Iraq War vet coming home and trying to get back to her life. So, yes, we’ve gotten to mush around in Lisa Dillman’s head and touch her sensibilities as a playwright a lot. I’ve had the enormous pleasure of being her mirror by asking questions and getting to see where we can go with the story, something I think is great fun.
Q: As a piece of American theater, do you feel American Wee-Pie will weather the test of time, or is this play just a sweet little bon-bon from a rough patch of American history?
AM: It’s not a big play. It’s not going to be one of those plays that will change the world in some way. Lisa knows that and she wasn’t looking to write that play. She has that serious vein in her, but she is also one of the funniest women I’ve ever met. I think the play will certainly stand--I think it will be as charming five, ten, or fifteen years down the road as it is today, and I think people will still want to do it. It will survive in much the same way as It’s A Wonderful Life. Not just because of Frank Capra’s wonderful filmmaking, but because it gets at a part of American life that is disappearing, a part of our society and our culture that is going away.
Q: What is that?
AM: The value of human generosity. We’re losing the ability to look past the money-making nut and simply reach out and help somebody and, in doing so, change our own lives. Lisa doesn’t hit this idea hard in the play, but it’s there. There is this celebration of what’s wonderful about the little guy, what’s wonderful about the small things that you are passionate about. It’s an Everyman’s story. This Everyman is not going to become the President of the United States, he’s not going to become a CEO, but he is going to be able to save himself by finding a connection with something to do with his life that he can actually love.
Many people work at jobs they don’t love. They don’t know why they work them other than to make money. At the same time they’re terrified to lose that job…or whatever it is that keeps them on this treadmill where nobody knows their name, doing something they don’t really care about, and being frightened all the time. Zed (Evan Whitfield) begins the play demoralized and at a crossroads. He knows his life has gone off course. What saves him isn’t something big like winning the lottery, it’s the simple generosity of the people he finds when he returns to Gardensend. Zed soon recognizes that he can get off that treadmill and live his life in a different way. I think as a society we’re finding that increasingly difficult to do. The idea that you could step off and make cupcakes for a living, or do beads or whatever it is you feel passionate about, is terrifying to us.
Q: Do you feel the Universe allots one a second chance in life, or does a second chance happen through force of will?
AM: I think you have to make it. I don’t think Zed has any idea how to make it.
Q: And yet the Universe drops Linz (Tracy Leigh) right into Zed’s lap. She literally leaps in and keeps him from getting run over. Was that just a lucky intervention?
AM: Perhaps. Just the same way Phil (Stephen Grenley) and Pableu (David Goldstein) intervene—they all help to save Zed in their weird and wacky little ways. First of all, they see him and take him at face value. They don’t give damn whether he’s a CFO or a big mucky-muck, they just see a guy who they think has potential for something.
Q: But Zed didn’t create that opportunity, it was created around him.
AM: No, but he takes advantage of it. He jumps on it. When he’s given the opportunity, he steps up. There are times when he could totally close down. He comes close when Pableu invites him to be his apprentice and Zed says, “No, I can’t do that!” Even his sister Pam says, “I know what you’ll make, you’ll make minimum wage, buddy!” He doesn’t listen. He hears something else calling to him.
Q: So what I hear you saying is that the Universe is always offering us second, third and maybe even fourth chances, but it’s our job to remain open to possibilities?
AM: I don’t know that it offers them, but I think they’re there. I think that if you want them and if you have the right kind of luck and generosity and a sense of who you are and what you need, you can find that second chance and you can go in that new direction.
Q: Tell us about the process of casting American Wee-Pie?
AM: It was so much fun! I had many different character impressions when I read the play. In the beginning I saw Linz as this fabulous, chubby little gal and then Tracy Leigh walked in. She clearly understood Linz and she knew exactly the kind of open heart and big mouth and big heart that Linz has. And when David walked in and did such a fabulous audition for Pableu, I thought about the humor in the disparity of their sizes as a couple. Tracy is this Amazon and David is not asix-foot tall guy. There’s about a foot and a half difference between them, and also with Evan. David walks up to Evan at one point and asks, “Who is this little man?” while looking straight up at him. So there was that.
When Evan walked in and read this guy, I knew he got Zed. He understood that Zed’s not simple and he’s not stupid…he’s just a little bit broken. Zed’s had too many things happen to him at once and has lost his way. Lisa Dillman describes Zed as quiet and a bit cautious, but not timid. Evan got that fine line.
Evan also got that Zed is one of those guys who is just comfortable standing there and having things wash over his face. A lot happens to Zed and so you could think that that role could get really inactive, but Evan is really present with Zed and I love it.
Our little zero hero.
Q: What do you hope Seattle Public Theater audiences will take away from this play?
AM: I hope they will laugh their butts off and have a really, really good time…and get hungry for cupcakes and pie. And then I hope that those little moments in there—those little moments about real human frailty and generosity and love and the delight of the really small, good thing will stay with them. I hope they’ll think about the plight of the little guy and then go home and paint a picture or go home and do what they feel passionate about. I hope they go and indulge in the small good thing.
Anita Montgomery has been on the artistic staff of ACT for the last eleven years, currently serving as both Literary Manager and Director of Education. She oversees various new play development programs and partnerships for ACT, including: the New Play Award, New Works for the American Stage commissions, the Women Playwright’s Festival with Hedgebrook, and the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival. She received a 2013 Gregory Award Nomination for Best Director for ACT’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture Blister Burn.