Pie in the Sky
Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Victory Theatre Center
Through May 21
Lawrence Thelen’s Pie in the Sky, receiving a world premiere at The Victory Theatre Center, is a modest two-character sentimental comedy. Thelen’s play wouldn’t be out-of-place as programming for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, except for the use of a few words unfit for broadcast — and some frank sexual talk. For the most part, it observes the decorum of a lower-middle-class Sunday visit in Texas: cozy, familiar, frequently irritable, but seeking accord. You might take your more liberal great-aunt, if you have one, to see this.
My own Texan grandmother would say to me, “Always take a pie, that way you’ll be welcome,” as I carried her pies on a special tray fitted with pegs to prevent sliding on the car seat (the meringue might tear). And as my cousin Wade once said to me, “Mamaw sure makes good pie — but if you listen to her talk, it’ll mess up your mind,” which was sometimes true. That observation pretty well describes the tone between Thelen’s characters, Mama (an excellent K Callan), aged 85, and her daughter Dory (the fine Laurie O’Brien), mid 60s.
Pie in the Sky is written as a scene of continuous kitchen action, beginning an hour before dawn on Dory’s birthday, and lasting just the amount of time required to prepare and bake an apple pie from scratch, or mostly from scratch. There’s some “cheating” with the crust. (Mamaw likewise cheated by using Betty Crocker pie-stick but disguised it by adding chopped pecans.)
Between mother and daughter, accounts are settled, family secrets revealed, plans set in motion, and to the extent that they can be, shadows negotiated. You may see the conclusion long before it arrives, perhaps the most noticeable weakness of Thelen’s play. The performers are better than the material.
Direction is by Maria Gobetti. The set is a functional kitchen (good set design by Evan Bartoletti), the oven is really baking that apple pie, and if you step right up to the apron after the curtain call, you’ll be offered a small slice.
The Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8p.m.; Sun., 4p.m. through May 21. (818) 841-5422, thevictorytheatrecenter.org . Running time: 75 minutes without intermission.