As I head into the second semester of my senior year, the reality of life after graduation is approaching all too rapidly. I’m wondering how I can stay committed to my passion for writing while at the same time securing myself financially. I’m decently frightened that I’ll end up doing something I don’t truly love or find personally meaningful. It’s all the more fitting, then, that I’m sitting here tonight writing a preview for American Wee-Pie, an upcoming play at The Station Theatre. Written by Chicago-based playwright Lisa Dillman, the story centers around a middle-aged textbook editor whose monotonous life is uprooted after he returns to his hometown for his mother’s funeral. Linz, the exuberant owner of a bakery and former classmate of Zed’s, helps him take a leap of faith to ditch his joyless job and begin a new, life-changing journey.
Below, I speak with director Jaclyn Loewenstein about the production.
Smile Politely: The play is filled with unique, eccentric characters. Did their distinct personalities present any difficulties while casting or directing? How did you make the characters relatable or realistic?
Jaclyn Loewenstein: The characters’ distinct personalities actually made these roles easy to cast. When I first read the play, I could immediately hear specific voices and rhythms for each character. Certain local actors came to mind for a couple of the roles (and happily, those actors are in this production!). While some of the characters’ personalities are heightened for comedic effect, they are definitely recognizable and relatable. In my discussions with the playwright, we agreed about the importance of finding the emotional truth for each character. These talented actors are bringing that truth to their performances.
SP: In a similar vein, were there any particular challenges that you enjoyed facing during this production? How did you and/or the cast overcome them?
Loewenstein: This was my first experience directing at the Station Theatre, so the main challenges have been incorporating the technical elements: set, lights, sound. I have a very dedicated stage manager, team of designers, and cast. It has been exciting to collaborate with them to bring our Wee world to life.
SP: The general consensus about the underlying message of American Wee-Pie seems to be to follow one’s passion and make peace with one’s past. How did you ensure that this theme didn’t come off as cliché in your production of the play?
Loewenstein: While the script includes some familiar and universal themes, it approaches them in a fresh way. It’s about reinventing oneself and discovering what you can bring into the world each day. It’s different for each character, and that variety is what makes the play so charming, quirky, and poignant.
SP: Going off the previous question, what do you personally hope viewers will take away from the production?
Loewenstein: The “take away” will depend largely on an individual’s age and life experience. There are moments and characters that will resonate with a wide range of audience members, from teens through seniors. And everyone will take away a new appreciation for cupcakes!
SP: What lessons, if any, did you learn from directing American Wee-Pie? Did your experience with the play change your views on living life, following your dreams, or any of the other motifs that come up throughout the production?
Loewenstein: The father of our lead actor passed away unexpectedly on November 30, a few weeks after we began rehearsals. His passing added a sense of immediacy to the script. It reinforced the message that, sadly, we often need a “wake-up call” — in the form of death — to remind us to make the most of our lives.
American Wee-Pie will be playing at the Station Theatre (223 N. Broadway Ave. Urbana) from Thursday, January 21st to Saturday, February 6th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and $15 on Friday and Saturday. They can be purchased online or by calling (217) 384-4000.