In a time when loud voices are always chattering on both sides of any political or social divide, Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake, now onstage in an Asolo Rep production in the Cook Theatre, might be seen as a plea for listening, instead of shouting past each other.
But never fear, Brunstetter (who writes and produces the TV hit This Is Us) offers more than a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down. In her characters, and in her use of humor, she makes any lessons or morals herein easy to swallow.
The Cake begins when Jen (Amanda Fallon Smith) returns home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to be married. Her mother died a few years ago, and so she turns for some maternal affection and help to her mom’s best friend, baker Della (Cindy Gold). Della’s thrilled at first to hear of the wedding plans, until she finds out that Jen’s intended is another woman, the African-American Macy (FSU/Asolo Conservatory student DeAnna Wright).
It’s not that Della is a bigot, at least not in her eyes. She doesn’t mind Macy’s race; it’s her gender that’s a problem, since Della, like her plumber husband Tim (Paul Romero), is a firm believer that the Bible speaks against same-sex relationships.
So the obvious battle lines might be drawn, but Brunstetter does her best to keep her people from being one-dimensional. Jen is admittedly conflicted despite her feelings for Macy, as she holds on to her religious Southern upbringing even though she’s fled to the friendlier confines of Brooklyn. Will she be forever torn, or can she act as a bridge from one world to another?
Della questions her conscience about the Jen-Macy thing even as she faces some long-buried issues in her own marriage. And Tim, who might at first come across as merely the butt of a joke or two, has his more revealing emotional moments (as well as a physical one, but let’s keep that a surprise).
Brunstetter’s Macy, unfortunately, is hard to like despite Wright’s attempts to broaden her. As the ultra liberal (and non-cake-eating) Northeasterner amid Southerners, she’s the least convincing character here, and we don’t see much evidence of the deep connection she and Jen are supposed to share.
But Brunstetter, who grew up in Winston-Salem, does know her hometown roots and setting well. And Gold’s performance as Della, warmhearted, enthusiastic about the joys of food and longing to appear on a television baking championship program, keeps us involved throughout both the softer and more pointed moments of the show, which is directed by Lavina Jadhwani with a good eye to pacing and the balance of comedy and drama. Plus, set designer Collette Pollard brings to life Della’s bakery and all those cakes and goodies on display with pleasing eye appeal.
The Cake continues through April 28; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.