No matter which side of the pro- or anti-gay marriage fence you fall on, “The Cake” is an entertaining and touching look at how people can disagree and still treat each other with respect and love. “The Cake,” showing at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre through April 21, introduces us to Della (played by Libby McNeill Seymour), a sweet, Southern woman who owns a bake shop in Winston- Salem. When Jen (played by Jessica Giannone), the daughter of Della’s deceased best friend, returns home to North Carolina to get married, she asks Della to bake a wedding cake. Della is thrilled — until she finds out that Jen is marrying another woman, Macy (played by Olivia London).
First, let me say — it’s not about the cake. Second, it is refreshing to see a production like “The Cake” that shows the struggle on both sides of the topic of gay rights. The public discourse on disagreeable topics has turned so ugly and disrespectful, it often results in outright dismissal of another’s beliefs simply because we don’t believe the same.
We see a little piece of that in “The Cake,” when one character uses coarse language to unsettle another character’s almost biblical sense of propriety. Onstage, it’s a good thing, because it gets us thinking. It gets us talking about how rude or how spot-on it can be to unsettle someone or disparage their belief system.
Since I’m a big believer in theater as a venue for opening public discourse on tough topics, I applaud CFRT’s willingness to continue to do just that. Unlike last season’s “Disgraced,” which took a serious look at Islamophobia, “The Cake” offers a dash of laughter and a pinch of self-reflection.
Seymour does an outstanding job of portraying Della, who is forced to question her religious beliefs as she struggles with deciding whether or not she should make a cake for a gay wedding. Her decision could jeopardize her relationship with Jen, who is like a daughter to Della. Also spotlighted is Della’s marriage to Tim (played by Greg King), who is opposed to his wife participating in a gay wedding.
Seeing Seymour and King onstage together again is a treat. Both are CFRT veterans and last appeared together in “Sense and Sensibility.” I give readers fair warning, no matter how much you’ve enjoyed King’s performances in the past, after “The Cake” you will not be able to look at him (or mashed potatoes) the same again.
Giannone and London bring vulnerability couple who want to love and be loved being judged.
Playwright Bekah Brunstetter doesn’t try to present an answer to the hot-button topic of gay marriage in 90 minutes. What she does is deftlypresent the dilemma on both sides of the topic. Brunstetter, who is from Winston-Salem, has publicly discussed how the play reflects her own dilemma of reconciling her Southern Baptist upbringing with her adult life in New York and Los Angeles, where her political beliefs are often pitted against a vilified version of the kind and caring people she grew up with in North Carolina.
Don’t expect any big, dramatic character shifts that fix all the problems and settle all the disagreements. That is not how real life usually works. Sometimes, the biggest, most difficult step is just finding enough common ground to begin the conversation.
“The Cake” is directed by David Hemsley Caldwell and runs through April 21. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 910-323-4233 or visit www.cfrt.org.
Photo: Libby McNeill Seymour as Della in “The Cake”
Photo credit: Ashley Owen