REVIEW: THE CAKE at Curious Theatre

by Taylor Jo Oxley

If you only see one show this year, the production of The Cake at Curious Theatre is the one you should pick. It is an incredibly well written play about a lovely gay couple being denied service at a bakery because the owner refused to make a cake for their wedding. This may sound heavy, and parts of it are, but the show keeps a light tone throughout adding elements of humor into even the the most serious scenes.

We meet the lovely Della, played by Emma Messenger, and upon first glance she is a Paula Deen-esque character who is speaking about why directions are so important when baking a cake. We later learn that following directions, especially those in the Bible, is the guiding light in her life. Messenger is gentle, gracious, and pleasurable to watch in this role. The audience falls immediately in love with her and understands her feelings and her motives completely, even though she is supposed to be the bad guy. Everything about her portrayal of this character, from her impeccable accent right down to the relationship between Della and her husband Tim (suitably played by Michael Morgan), was spot on. Messenger gave an unblemished performance.

Macy (Jada Suzanne Dixon) and Jen (Alaina Beth Reel) are visiting North Carolina to plan their wedding. Della is the best friend of Jen’s late mother and it seems only natural that Della would make the cake for her wedding. Della is ecstatic about being a part of the special day, until she finds out that Jen’s fiancé is not a man, but a woman. Reel and Dixon fall into their characters in an almost instinctive manner. Playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s script comes genuinely to them making the roles of sweet Southern belle and liberal Brooklyn lesbian look like second nature.

This play would not be nearly as successful as it is without the wonderful words of Brunstetter. She plays to both sides of a controversial issue impeccably. We see how torn Jen is between her life in Brooklyn and the morals and ideas she grew up with in the South. This is the same for Della. Brunstetter smartly makes our sweet Southern bakery owner into a lovable character, finding ways for the audience to feel tied to her story while equally feeling troubled for Macy and Jen.

The technical aspects of this show were quite clever. The cake shop turns into a bedroom during all too fitting musical set changes. The scenic concept was created by Director Chip Walton and executed smoothly. Lighting by Richard Devin was fun and complimented the set but there were definitely some issues with the focus, leaving the actors faces in the dark a few times. Costume designs by Meghan Anderson Doyle were nothing less than perfect. She captured the quintessential looks of Brooklynite and down home charm superbly.

This performance was smart, funny, and moved me to tears. In a time where it is a struggle to hear every voice, this play is a great reminder that we should all take the time to understand each other even if our values are not the same. There are always two sides to the story and The Cake is an honest and human representation of that. Plus, there is actual cake at the end.

 

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