Ringwald takes on charged topic with ‘The Cake’
FERNDALE, Mich.– — It seems apropos that The Ringwald is presenting a play about mixed feelings over same-sex marriage just a few weeks after the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant a same-sex couple a marriage license lost her bid for re-election.
I marveled and was heartened that folks in the mostly Red state of Kentucky made such a decision. But the fact remains there still is a myriad of people who don’t accept, much less embrace, gay marriage.
The Cake, directed by the Detroit theatre veteran Dyan Bailey, tells the tale of Della, a very down-home gal in North Carolina who owns a little bakery, and Jen, her best friend’s daughter who asks her to make a cake for her wedding to her girlfriend. You’d think that Della would be a totally unsympathetic character upon reading the plot of the play, but she’s anything but. She struggles with her feelings and her religious convictions in an endearing way. Plus, she has her own set of issues, including a tepid non-physical marriage, that are stirred by seeing the great love that Jen and her girlfriend Macy share.
The play was written by Bekah Brunstetter, one of the writers and producers of the hot TV show “This Is Us.” That puts a lot of pressure on the
production to be good, and it does not disappoint. Everything about it, from the homey set design (Christoper Kamm) and properties design (Katy Schoetzow) to the spot-on costume design—from Della’s homespun aprons to Macy’s political T-shirts (Chris Fortin) rings true. The lighting design (Brandy Joe Plambeck) is notable in that it is used in dramatic fashion to highlight some of Della’s internal struggles, which are played out in fantasy conversations she has with George (Dave Davies), the distinctively English voice of one of the judges on a baking show she is set to appear on.
Each of the actors brings their own special charm and finesse to their respective characters. Maggie Alger is Jen, the former “Jenny” who is all
grown up with a name preference to show it. She is young and idealistic but despite the comfort she has found in her relationship with Macy, is still struggling with her strict southern upbringing. Being back in that environment fills her with nostalgia for her simple past clashing with the
realization that she no longer fits in. She lapses into a southern accent because she is back “home.” But is it really home anymore? That is the
question she struggles with.
You couldn’t ask for a more authentic southern gal than Suzan M. Jacokes as Della, and believe me when I tell you I know southern women. My mom never lost her drawl and I spent many summers south of the Mason-Dixon as a child and prepubescent. How can you not find some affection for a woman who feels so passionately about baking with “real” ingredients? Like Jen, Della tries to be “glass half full” (which is the southern-woman way) but reality tends to rear its ugly head and mess with her not-so-cut-and-dried belief system. All she needed was to utter a few more “bless your hearts” to take me back to my own childhood.
Audrey Jai, who plays Macy, skillfully captures the combination of a feminist know-it-all who also has a vulnerable side she doesn’t like to acknowledge. She thoughtfully shows the character’s complicated and multi-dimensional personality. Her behavior illustrates how anger usually is a mask for more-difficult emotions, like fear and sadness.
Finally, you couldn’t ask for a more authentic good ol’ boy to play Tim than Joel Mitchell. He seems to channel Robin Williams at times, trying to make light of difficult topics. But he also has a vulnerable side that helps make his character more endearing that the one-dimensional bigot that is initially presented. He struggles with his sexuality and feelings of inadequacy and like many men, pours his energy into work as his source of identity and masculinity.
Despite the serious topic, the play has many light moments and the 80 minutes (no intermission) goes by very quickly. The ending satisfies without being cliched, kind of like many of the endings on “This Is Us.” The audience may walk in thinking they know their belief system pretty well, but might walk out with some feelings and revelations they weren’t expecting. This is definitely time well spent with an endearing cast of characters taking on a sensitive subject. As both Alger and Jacokes note in their cast bio: “Love is love is love.”