'The Prescott Method' not even half-baked

Posted: April 03, 2013

Two women, driven by desperation into friendship. In the right hands, this plot forms the basis for exciting buddy comedies ( Thelma & Louise) or emotionally engaging period pieces ( Enchanted April, Steel Magnolias).

In Michael Whistler's heavy-handed The Prescott Method: Easy Steps to Perfect Bread Baking, Every Time, it inspires little but a desire to check one's watch.

This 75-minute time-waster, now receiving its world premiere at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, follows a few months in the lives of town pariah Veronica (Madi Distefano) and Peg (Jessica Bedford), a newcomer all but abandoned by her careerist husband. In 1966, the pair meet at a church social, where Veronica implores Peg to teach her to bake bread according to the Prescott Method.

While Bedford amiably fills out her character's interesting backstory, Greg Wood's direction and DiStefano's performance do little to discourage us from despising Veronica. Although Whistler gives her lines like "You know where I go to be alone? The bedroom," Distefano plays her social outcast as deservedly exiled from polite society, leaving little room for sympathy when she reveals the disaster that derailed her life.

And while the play is billed as a love letter to " '60s suburbia," these women never mention the tumult that surrounds them. Instead, they prattle away their weekly get-togethers, reluctantly opening up over domesticity's dreary doldrums. The only historical reference involves the pair's smoking Lucky Strikes (when each really needs a mother's little helper), and Susan Stevens' appearance as June Cleaver-like culinary personality Elizabeth Prescott.

Here, Glen Sears' set sharply contrasts the orange-lacquered faux vibrancy of Peg's kitchen with the stainless steel sterility of Prescott's television show. Whistler's writing renders even Prescott unlikable; she speaks in agitating rhymed couplets and makes every lesson about baking bread an obvious metaphor for friendship, family, marriage, the loss of a child, and motivation for hope. What can't this all-purpose staple achieve in literary and culinary terms!

On the way out, ushers handed patrons a forearm-size loaf (courtesy of nearby Le Pain Quotidien), the first time that evening I received any sustenance at the theater.

"The Prescott Method"

Through April 14 at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $30-$40. 215-574-3550 or www.walnutstreettheatre.org

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