Theatre Nova’s "Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie" is a smart comedy about a serious issue
Fiona is 50 years old, a bit shy and retiring and married to an abusive, arrogant, and philandering husband, whose love she still craves.
She needs help and her friend Marta knows just what she needs to feel empowered.
Detroit playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage’s Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie is a whip-smart comedy just right for the #MeToo moment. The play is being given its world premiere at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova under the astute direction of Daniel C. Walker.
Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie takes us back to an earlier and very specific time and place: Dallas, Texas, November 1963. The Kennedy assassination plays a small part in the domestic trials of the ever-loving Fiona and her loutish husband, a successful doctor, former football hero, and tireless womanizer. While he plays around, she bakes pies. They are mighty fine pies, especially her pepper pie.
As the play opens, Fiona is trying yet again to please her husband with an intimate dinner, including pie for dessert, with the promise of rekindling their sex life. And she is eager to tell her husband John that her pies have won her a trip to compete in a national baking contest. She waits and waits and waits and when the husband wanders in late, he becomes abusive and forces her to take a sedative.
Fiona needs a way out and she turns to her friend Marta, an emigre from Nazi Germany and a psychologist. But Marta specializes in another kind of therapy, which she thinks might just be the spark that Fiona needs to tame her husband or send him packing.
Marta’s true calling is being a dominatrix who dresses like a German commandant, her way of dealing with a troubled past. She knows a thing or two about men and thinks Fiona will benefit from learning how to bark commands and, yes, snap a whip.
Walker keeps things moving quickly with three actors who are adept at handling the sometimes raunchy and often hilarious comedy as well as some of the darker drama around domestic abuse. It’s the quick pace and the sudden jolts that give the play a good deal of energy. The production runs just over an hour and never drags or becomes repetitive.
Sarah Burcon plays the sweet and naive Fiona, who moves from timid and clueless victim to take-charge woman. Burcon makes the transitions credible in the short span of the play. She is especially effective as the troubled housewife who gets a shocking and also enticing view of another way to deal with men.
Jeannine Thompson is Marta. She wields a whip with authority and, also, brings authority to a credible German accent. From the very first, Thompson’s Marta is a bright contrast to Fiona’s shrinking housewife as she engages in angry, verbal banter with Dr. John, as she calls him. Her performance is funny, snappy, and on point.
Patrick O’Lear is the villain of the piece as John. He brings solid reality to the wretched husband and is quite frightening in a confrontation with Fiona. But O’Lear also plays the sweet, masked, masochistic Mr. Milk whose grunts, groans, and begging help keep the domination scenes funny rather than serious.
Walker punctuates the action on stage with an excellent soundtrack of late 1950s and early 1960s pop music. The songs are like a Greek chorus, commenting on the action we’ve just seen or are about to see. The opening sequence uses a quick succession of songs and light changes to show time passing and set the mood for the play.
From Leslie Gore proudly proclaiming “You Don’t Own Me” to Nancy Sinatra giving notice with “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” Mrs. Fifty Makes a Pie tells an effectively funny story about this very serious issue.
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
"Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie" continues at Theatre Nova, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor, at 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through June 24. For tickets, call 734-635-8450 or visit theatrenova.org.