“Pie Shop Play,” is a brand new play as part of 2018’s Corkscrew Theater Festival, going on now at 64 East 4th Street in Manhattan. The play was written by Alice Pencavel and directed by Sivan Battat, and produced by Madelyn Paquette and Brenna Ross. This production stars Devin Elise, Futaba Shioda, Kaylee Simonson, Eliza Simpson, and Madame Vivien V, with an expertly designed set by Dan Daly.
“Pie Shop Play” tells the story of two sisters, Agnes and Kitty, who own a pie shop. When their dishwasher Dax discovers a leak in the basement, water starts rising into the store. Agnes and Kitty hire linguistics undergraduate Farrah, who is excited to be part of the team, and the bakery is terrorized by a drag queen health inspector.
This play traffics in certain double entendre and ribaldry, and popular culture callbacks, and these motifs serve as a social context in 2018. On a handful of occasions, characters sometimes explicitly and say, “Me too,” or more tacitly say they agree with what the other person is saying. The bakery is a “pie” shop, with broken “pipes,” run by women, and there’s a problem of too much water, such that all of these are references to female anatomy. The most explicit – and in the play, literally unspoken -- reference to the “Me Too,” movement is when Kitty sexually abuses Dax in the office.
Dax isn’t raped in the normal sense of a man submitting a woman to sexual intercourse, and this is important to the meaning of the play. Dax isn’t raped per se, so much as forcibly coaxed into mutual masturbation because of Dax’s lower status as a dishwasher. The rapist, Kitty, is a woman, in a play with only feminine characters. The play reveals Kitty herself was raped before the events of the play. Thus, the play is relentless here that even with all of these caveats, Kitty is still abusing her power.
This play concerns how women must introspect about the Me Too movement. Agnes and Kitty are women business owners who themselves are repressed by a patriarchy. The play works hard to show this does not remove them from the responsibilities of Me Too. They become tyrants as the play progresses because they don’t recognize Dax’s emotions, that Dax might not enjoy being sexually abused, and finally when Dax falls in love with Farrah. This speaks to the philosopher Hegel, who wrote about workers (here, dishwasher Dax), and managers (owners Kitty and Agnes). Hegel wrote workers can strike or quit because they are connected to reality in a way deciders and decision-makers are not. Simply put, one breaks free from social constraints by re-focusing on material change.
This play has kindred spirits with Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. In that book, Levy argued there are conflicting views of feminism. Levy thought sex-positive feminism is at odds and works to the detriment to political aims of feminism. Miley Cyrus is great for equality of pop stars, and Cyrus is less effective when establishing equal pay between genders. Likewise, a transgender woman worked to shout down Rose McGowan at Barnes and Noble in 2018. Clearly both parties have merit, however the transgender heckler was taking away from McGowan’s lecture. The former was near-sighted about the bigger picture. “Pie” asserts that it’s not enough to simply recognize and argue about the criminal offenses of rape and sexual violence, because action must be taken.
So, there is a problem of multiple voices. To answer this, the play creates a unity-of-vision from surrealism by contrast. For all of its mind-expanding, limitless consideration of reality, there is a relief – as in an etching made for a print – that often surrealism begets a well-delineated reality. The play uses various surreal techniques, including song, puppetry, a drag queen, and Shakespearean middle-English. In a subplot, Agnes and Kitty fear a “tribe of uncles,” which is a red herring that never shows up. All of these dramatic unreal effects contrast with Dax’s rape, which the play presents literally. Philosopher Immanuel Kant believed mathematics and physics transcended individual interpretations, but more recently neuropsychologist Daniel Levitan noted that when a person hears a note on the piano, there’s a realistic notion that that note is what every human being hears. For all of its surrealism, this play thinks the merits of the Me Too movement are objective and not party to ambiguous paranoia.
Outside of the rape, the rest of the play correctly sees everything else as a surreal joke, because making a restaurant is a feat of creativity. The fun and games of making a restaurant are fun and games when they are fun and played. This is part of the sick perversion of Harvey Weinstein as a rapist, that his power maneuvers occurred in a lie about “real life,” as outside of theater and film, that part of the “casting couch” and the way to become an actor, someone who pretends, a woman had to submit to his “real” power in the “real” world. It’s a cynicism that borders on madness, because the rapist thinks he is revealing a true reality in power, nature, and passion. Every healthy person knows rape is a lie in this way.
“Pie” is a thoughtful and provocative work of theater that exposes the villains of the Me Too movement as cynical and nearsighted. “Pie” is a work of radical feminism and as such it is insightful and revealing. The audience will recognize the problems in these enemies, and maybe will understand that there still needs to be introspection and hard work in the future. “Pie” is an awesome play and a huge accomplishment.