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THE GREAT PIE ROBBERY ...Or, We Really Knead the Dough review by Shelley Molad
August 13, 2012

Ben Tostado’s debut play The Great Pie Robbery…Or, We Really Knead the Dough, premiering at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, was inspired by the students he teaches at the Rodeph Sholom Schools on the Upper West Side. This is not surprising, as the show feels like a children’s storybook sprung to life on stage. Tostado, who also directs this production, paints his characters with broad, highly stylized strokes; they are admittedly familiar archetypes and include a hero named Chicken Farmer John (Seth Grugle), a coquettish, blonde pig-tailed love-interest and heroine named Clementine (Jennifer Bissell), and a black-caped villain with a dark mustache named Vincent Von Villanueva (Mike Quirk). The ensemble, which includes a medley of characters that inhabit Skunk Valley, U.S.A., successfully delights, and the actors are appropriately cast to type. And, just in case we forget who is who, we are instructed with large cue cards to cheer the hero and boo the villain. Predictability and familiarity in this case are enjoyable, and there is pleasure in knowing what will come next.

For a show perfectly suited for a PG audience, there were surprisingly few children in the house, yet it seemed it was the adults who were laughing and enjoying the fun. To his credit, Tostado has written a clever script about a small town, near the turn of the century, trying to protect a cherished pie shop with a rich tradition and history. He leaves generous room for his characters to flop and exhibit unique and quirky traits, as they navigate the all too familiar territory of their archetypes. For instance, Vincent Von Villanuevea (Mike Quirk) manicures his nails and carries coupons for mustache trims; Junior, the only son of Pa and Ma Baker, dreams of being a baton-twirling, tap-dancing show boy, and the town gossip/music teacher Anne Chovie (Lorinne Lampert) prefers to sing in F minor.

Sound designer Neal J. Freeman has chosen swell music for the piece; Ben Rauch plays keyboard live. Memorable moments include a climactic fight sequence between Chicken Farmer John and Villanueva, a vocal standoff between Villanueva and his Gypsy Sidekick, Madame Fusilli (Marilyn Oran), as well as an attempted marriage proposal from Chicken Farmer John to Clementine, who, held hostage to a chair, giddily accepts and delivers an undecipherable, yet undeniably charming monologue with a handkerchief still stuffed in her mouth. The Great Pie Robbery is children’s theater at its best, yet Tostado has created something that the whole family can enjoy.