Comedy, so the story goes, is harder than dying. I tend to believe as much, especially when going to see comedies on stage. To successfully generate a laugh requires vast precision. Cake, the new production at Theatre Unleashed in North Hollywood, is just such a work. Honestly, I rarely laughed. But I did smile a great deal. More importantly, I ended up caring quite a bit about these characters (frankly more important).
Wendy Gough Soroka is the playwright, creator of this ensemble of characters in and around a college--a English professor and her husband, their playwright daughter, some students of the professor, a co-worker, a husband, a member of the audience of the playwright's latest work.
At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the variety of characters and scenes, but as their interconnections became clear the more this 'world' felt real and even familiar. Teh network of how all these characters fit together grows before us at a very nice pace, enough so that eventually when events happen "off stage" we know who did them. Likewise it was nice to see a logical kind of progression happen, at the same time without anything as complex as over half a dozen human lives wrapped up in a tiny bow.
Criticisms? Well, shifting the scenery too often distracted (although at times this was handled with a style and theatricality that warmed what is left of my heart). I felt the play itself sort of stopped rather than ending, but the rhythm of the scene changes methinks had a lot to do with that.
My greatest praise goes to the cast in general, but especially to Sammi Lappin in the role of playwright/daughter Cynthia. She was standing in for the talented Kire Horton, a marvelous actress I've seen before at TU. Lappin was great, script in hand--although I frankly hope to see Cake once more and get to see Horton. Elisabeth Fenning as a reluctant mother as well as once (and future) theatre teacher was outstanding as ever (her earlier run in Ligature Marks at the same venue make me expect as much). Courtney Bell, Tracey Collins, Brad Griffith, Bobby McGlynn, Lee Pollero, Jacob Smith and Theresa Stroll filled out a cast that--this is very high praise when coming from me--never once stopped being equal parts truthful and human.
I feel this review hasn't given as much detail as I'd like. Readers cannot have much idea of the plot, for example, and I haven't addressed the themes or issues of the play much if at all. Yet while I have my own opinions on these, I increasingly suspect those are best left to individual audience members. This play is very much like history rather than a sermon. We see lives lived, mistakes made, realizations arrived at, arguments pursued, accidents horrible and lucky occur, turning points reached, lessons learned (or not), and quite a few questions left unanswered. To us, anyway.
Methinks the characters will get around to answering for themselves however.
Cake plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm until November 21, 2015 at the The Belfry Stage, 11031 Camarillo St. at Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91602