Perfect Pie, by Judith Thompson, follows the story of two friends, depicting their childhood together and the resonating effect it has on both of their later lives. Now-famous Francesca is coaxed back to her hometown by her dear and domesticated friend, Patsy. Together, they rediscover the joy they once found in each other’s company, and the pain that it inadvertently dredges up. Their dialogue alludes to a long period of separation and the mysterious and seemingly traumatic events that preceded it. The story alternates between scenes from the past and the present, slowly revealing the secret that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat for the entirety of the performance. It contrasts light-hearted realism and humor with heavy subject matter, including bullying, rape, alcoholism, poverty, childhood abuse, and PTSD.
The staging and lighting of this production are well suited to its purpose. The set, designed by Andrea Holstein, is elegant and simple, enabling the story but not distracting from it. Occasional sound effects and period-appropriate music ground the production in reality. And the challenge of depicting massive shifts in space and time is accomplished with ease with the use of a few spotlights.
What really brings the story to life, however, is the talent and dedication of the four lead actresses. Each performance was moving and dynamic.
Sasha Luna, playing the role of Patsy Willet, was strong and believable from the moment she stepped on stage. The particularities of her voice and inflections brought her character to life. She allowed for comic relief as well, with an endearing frankness and permeating simplicity that made her a pleasure to watch. Her counterpart, Marie Begg, is played by Jillian Baker. Baker’s performance, as with her character, intensified throughout the course of the production. This cannot be an easy evolution for an actress to make every night, but Baker charges forth fearlessly and tumultuously, forcing us to feel pain, confusion, and longing with her. By the end of the second act, her performance had me in tears (more than I’d like to admit).
Emily Ross, as Francesca (or, older Marie), is stunning on stage. She exudes refined confidence and glamour, but somehow also manages to reveal tiny cracks on her polished surface that allude to her troubled past. Ross provides Francesca with complexity and strength. Alongside her, Chelsea Benham performs the role of Patsy McAnn, and steals the show. Benham has the role perfected down to the smallest detail: her facial expressions, her hands, her accent, even the way she walks. She possesses a rare, quiet beauty and it shines through in her performance.
Finally, a big SLICE of credit must be given to director Jonas Trottier, who will refuse to acknowledge your accolades when you go to see the play. Somehow, amidst all the discomfort that comes attached to the aforementioned heavy themes, Trottier has managed to coax out the importance of small, intimate moments. He has infused an overtly serious production with an air of hope; with a gentle suggestion that despite all of its shortcomings, life is worth it, and it is beautiful. All the elements of the production seemed to merge effortlessly. Some might say they made it look easy-as-pie.