The lives of nine college town residents intersect in Wendy Gough Soroka’s World Premiere comedy Cake, the latest from Theatre Unleashed and a crowd-pleaser despite its unnecessarily lengthy scene changes.
The pair Medieval monks who figure in the first of Cake’s twenty-one short vignettes turn out to be characters in Oh Brother!, a play whose writer Cynthia (Kiré Horton) we then meet as she is being skype-interviewed by Jan On The Job (voice of Sammi Lappin), a nincompoop reporter who can’t seem to refer to Cynthia without a defining modifier (female, feminist, lesbian, etc.).
As for Cynthia’s mother, middle-aged Lois (Tracey Collins) is hardly your average, everyday English professor, or so we discover when she counsels straight-A student Izzy (Theresa Stroll) to explore her bad girl side (because what good is a 4.0 going to do her?), then expresses a misguided belief that top student Jake (Bobby McGlynn) could not possibly have written his latest paper because no man could ever understand women the way he appears to do.
Lois’s wacky advice is only the start of a very bad day for Izzy, whose boyfriend Gabe (Lee Pollero) then breaks up with her over cake (hers) and pie (his), the differences between their two desserts a metaphor (or should that be a simile?) for a relationship that becomes even more mismatched upon Gabe’s revelation that he’s gay.
Completing Cake’s cast of characters are Cynthia’s dad/Lois’s husband Ron (Brad Griffith) and 30something bffs Julie (Liz Fenning) and Jennie (alternate Cyanne McClairian), whose longtime friendship is being put to the test by the diverse life paths each has taken. (Julie is the married mother of a rambunctious four-year-old and wishing she were still childless and teaching theater. Jennie envies Julie to the point of jeopardizing their friendship as she hears her own biological clock ticking.)
Playwright Soroka got her inspiration for Cake when it occurred to her while writing several unrelated playlets for Theatre Unleashed’s 25 Plays Per Hour that if she connected the characters, she might just have a full-length play there.
And so she does, and a delightful one at that, in addition to offering audiences the enjoyable challenge of fitting together puzzle pieces that together add up to 95 minutes of fun (with a dash of drama thrown in for good measure).
That being said, Cake would run a good deal shorter had director Lisa K. Wyatt not seen the need to move furniture around for each of its twenty time-consuming scene changes. (An easy solution: Have all the bench scenes unfold downstage right, all the table-and-chairs scenes upstage left, etc.,thereby eliminating the need to move anything but props.)
Still, this is a relatively minor complaint in a play and production that showcase both Soroka’s gift for creating interesting, complex, surprising characters and a cast of comedically talented Theatre Unleashed company members.
Under Wyatt’s otherwise sharp direction, all nine actors get their chance to shine (Griffith and Polero double as Brothers Timothy and Philip in Cake’s play-within-a-play), with alternate McClairian doing the evening’s standout work as a woman who finds herself increasingly more desperate for marriage and family.
Production design, while nothing spectacular, does the job, and colorfully so, though as previously mentioned Tamazine Fritz’s scenic design would work even better were the stage area used more efficiently. Gregory Craft’s lighting design and Aaron Lyons’ sound design both do the trick, with Katie Sikkema’s costumes earning the production’s highest design marks for her multiple character-defining outfits. Ann Hurd is scenic painter.
Alternates David Foy Bauer, Steve Julian, Lappin, Jim Martyka, and McClairian are scheduled to perform on November 12 and 13. The role of Jennie is normally played by Courtney Sara Bell.
Cameron Stark is stage manager.
Cake reminded me of a couple of similarly structured movies (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Playing By Heart) and I could easily imagine it filmed as an indie feature. In the meantime, it makes for an entertaining season opener for Theatre Unleashed.
Theatre Unleashed, 11031 Camarillo St, North Hollywood.
November 2, 2015