In July 2012, Colorado residents Charlie Craig and David Mullins approached Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips with a request to create a cake to celebrate their upcoming wedding. Everyone knows how that turned out, but not necessarily about “The Cake” – the current production at Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre. To discover the story behind the play, Between The Lines talked recently to director Dyan Bailey and noted actress Suzan Jacokes.
Bekah Brunstetter’s play, “The Cake,” tackles a topic most of our readers are familiar with: Christian bakers, cakes and gay weddings. What’s this particular story about?
Dyan: Della’s best friend passed away from cancer five years ago. Her daughter, Jen, comes back into town to ask Della to bake her cake for her wedding. Jen is marrying a woman, and Della can’t get behind gay marriage.
Brunstetter, as you point out, gives the play a few twists from the Colorado case, such as moving the story from Middle America to the Old South, and rather it focusing on a gay male couple, it’s a pair of lesbians getting married. What was it about this particular script that resulted in it being produced by The Ringwald this season?
Dyan: At the Ringwald, we have been cognizant of the fact that we showcase more of the gay male experience than the lesbian, so I was really excited to be directing a show that focuses more on the lesbian experience. With “Fun Home” later this year, it’s pretty exciting to me that we are doing two lesbian-based shows this year – I think that may be a first for us!
As the director and an LGBT ally, Dyan, what attracted you to this play? Of all the choices out there, why this script?
Dyan: It wasn’t typical, and the relationship between Della and her husband really struck a chord.
You’re no stranger to gay weddings. How close does this play echo your experiences in regard to conversations you’ve had with people about gay weddings in general, or when they’ve learned you’ve actually attended one?
Dyan: I have a friend whose sister just got married to her wife, and his family would not attend. It’s a weird time we live in. It’s 2018, and people still have problems with who other people marry. This play – it doesn’t make excuses for that, but it does try and explain that these people, like Della, aren’t bad people. They just hold onto these beliefs they are taught to be the truth. It’s whether they realize there are “other truths” (alternate facts?) or dismiss them and continue believing what they believe. It’s Della’s struggle that really is compelling.
In today’s hyper-sensitive environment, many are quick to assign “hate” as the motivating factor behind the reasons why a person refuses to provide a service for a gay wedding. You, Suzan – as Della – get to jump into the head and mind of a woman caught up in a situation she never anticipated. How do you as an actor do that? How did you initially perceive her, and what was your thought process as you tried to jump into this woman’s world and make sense of it?
Suzan: This might seem strange, but I liked her from the start. I feel like her initial reaction comes from a place of shock. She’s never been confronted by this before. It’s a gut reaction, but she tries to understand (it). It’s not simple to change your whole way of thinking, but she’s open to it.
What was hardest for you to wrap your head around as you worked on developing the character?
Suzan: Della is a funny person! As a mostly comedic actor, when I’m working on something a little more dramatic, my instinct is to push the comedy aside, but Della has a sense of humor about her I found enduring.
What surprised you most as you discovered what makes this woman tick?
SUZAN: She’s a sexual person. It’s something that would take me by surprise with every reading, but it’s very important to her. She has many layers.
When I saw who’s playing your husband – the one and only Joel Mitchell, who’s earned more honors for his work than I can possibly remember – I couldn’t help but smile. He’s a force to be reckoned with. (As are you, Suzan.) What did he bring to the table that allowed you to fully grasp your character?
Suzan: I’ve known Joel for about 20 years! He was Herr Schmidt to my Frauline Schneider in “Cabaret” when we were at Wayne together. The scenes we do together are pretty charged, and Joel made it a safe place every time. He just makes it easy to be in the moment. The way he plays Tim really helped me with Della. The ins and outs of their relationship has been easy for me to feel since day one. You can love someone more than anything, and still feel disconnected, and at the same time, be one with that person. He’s a very present scene partner, and it makes everything easier.
The show has been open now for a handful of performances. Is the audience reaction so far what you expected? Or if not, what’s surprised you about their response?
Dyan: I knew during rehearsals we had something really special, but the responses I have gotten from people that I know who would be incredibly honest with me have been overwhelming. This is the first “play” play I have directed. It sounds crazy, but everything I have directed has either been something I have written, been part of writing, or worked with the writers as part of the process (or a parody). So to be gifted with this play has been a blessing.
Suzan: Honestly, I didn’t have any preconceived notion about how audiences would react, but I have been pleased that people seem to be on board with Della. They give her credit for trying.
How has the show been selling?
Dyan: Our houses haven’t been huge. Coming off a monster hit like “Clue,” you just want the people to come back to see this show. And I know I’m biased, but its sooooooo good.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
Dyan: I hope it makes them feel hope that people can open their minds and change. (Or) at least try.
Suzan: That’s a big question. I hope this is the kind of show that you sit and enjoy, then it makes you think on the way home. And then again the next day. Then when you watch the news. I don’t agree with Della’s stance, but she’s open; the whole situation makes her think and reevaluate. She’s not afraid to change her mind; she just wants the time to get there.
And what would you say to someone if they were hesitant to come see “The Cake?”
Suzan: Why are you hesitant? Even if the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, you’ll be able to see something of yourself in one or more of these characters. If you’re more in line with Della’s beliefs, that’s okay. The character is treated with respect. She’s not a villain; she’s a person on a different path than she has been her whole life. And that’s scary.
“The Cake” will be shown at The Ringwald Theatre from Friday Nov. 30 through Sunday, Dec. 2. It is located at 22742 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale. Tickets range from $10 to $20. Find out moe about ticketing and show information by calling 248-545-5545 or by visiting https://theringwald.com.