It is not that hard for Cindy Lear to step into her character’s shoes. When Springfield Contemporary Theatre stages “The Cake” March 25-April 3 at the Springfield Art Museum, it will be in some ways a chance to relive the past.
“The Cake” was written by Bekah Brunstetter, whose resume includes co-producing and writing NBC’s hit series “This Is Us.” It tells the story of Jen, who lives in New York but has always dreamed of getting married in her small North Carolina hometown.
Jen asks Della, her late mother’s best friend, to bake one of her legendary cakes for the ceremony. Della is overjoyed at Jen’s request until she realizes there’s not just one bride, but two. Jen is marrying a black woman. This forces Della to re-examine some of her deeply held beliefs.
“My daughter at 28 decided to start dating women, and she had been engaged to a man in the past. She’s on the LGBTQIA+ continuum,” said Lear, who plays Della.
“I had that personal journey myself — and I’m sure it was easier than Della because I don’t have all the religious baggage — but I have conservative family members. It was a journey, to say the least, of accepting your child and what they want to do. What for me was the harder part was giving up on my own dreams for my child. My dreams for my child, not my child’s dream for her life. But as parents, that’s sort of what we do. We impose our dreams on them.”
“The Cake” runs March 25-27 and again March 31 to April 3, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now. Adults are $29, while seniors and students are $26. Student rush tickets are available for $10. Thursdays are “pay what you can days” at SCT. More information on the SCT website or call 417-831-8001.
The production itself has been a journey for Springfield Contemporary Theatre. It was originally scheduled for March 2020, but delayed by COVID-19 just days before opening. Then came a second pandemic delay in February 2022.
“We were all reassuring ourselves that we’d be back in late spring (2021),” said Terry Bloodworth, director of the show. “We’ll take a week of rehearsal and jump back into this thing. Late spring turned into July, then the next thing you know you realize we’re in for a very long haul. … One of my cast members called me the other day and all I could think of was ‘If he’s calling me from the hospital, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”
Thankfully all is well with the cast and crew and the show will go on as scheduled.
“We’re all very thrilled to see it finally happen,” said Rick Dines, SCT’s managing artistic director. “As (Bloodworth) said to me the other night, ‘I’m 73 years old and this is the second-longest relationship of my life.’”
Bloodworth himself is bringing personal experience to “The Cake.” Della’s bakery was inspired by his own daughter-in-law’s bakery, Amycakes in Springfield.
“We drew a lot of inspiration for the design of the bakery and the overall feel of it from my daughter-in-law’s bakery,” he said. “It reminds you of these little institutions that exist in small-town America and how important they can be and how important the people can be, because the main character is a beloved person in her hometown.”
Like the main character, Bloodworth grew up in a small southern town. That, too, informs how he approaches the subject matter.
“This play, obviously, has echoes of gay life in a small town,” Bloodworth said. “I’m straight and I don’t think I’d ever known I’d met a gay person until I went off to a little community college. It wasn’t some sort of complex society there in central Arkansas, but I met a couple of people who seemed to be nice guys. They were just who they were.”
It was a transformative experience for Bloodworth.
“I think it was one of the very first awakenings in my life that maybe there are people out there who live their lives in a different way and maybe they deserve not only to be tolerated but treated with respect,” he said. “It opened my eyes and it helped me to be a much more tolerant person of everyone.”
Despite the subject matter, audiences should expect a story about people, not politics.
“The thing I love about the play is it’s not at any point a political play. It’s not about should she have to bake it, it’s about this woman grappling with the fact it’s her goddaughter, who she loves dearly,” Dines said. “Does she endanger her relationship with her goddaughter? She grapples with if that’s something she feels comfortable doing. Really it’s a play about these characters examining their own relationships with each other. It causes Della to go back and think about her own marriage and what that means to her. It really is a play about relationships and everything else, but it’s written in such a beautifully wonderful way that it’s predominantly funny and comedic as we approach these issues.”
“You will recognize people in this show. They aren’t just character types, but real people on stage,” he said. “Not necessarily symbols, but real people. The conversations that they have are things that have great resonance, I think, for a community like Springfield. I think people will feel very much at home in the atmosphere in this little bakery.”
And depending on when you go, there might be a pair of special guests in the crowd. Lear’s daughter Alea and her wife Ashley LaRoque are coming from Colorado to see the show.
“I’m really excited to share this with them because we all went through that journey together,” she said. “And my husband Andy, too. He was very much a rock and a stable force and kept us all moving through it. I’m just very excited to share this with her. I know that it’s going to be happy and sad rethinking their journey.”