A circle of interwoven stories, slowly revealing their linkages as we pass around the circle — this storytelling approach has been popular since Pulp Fiction hit the screen 20 years ago. (And it’s a time-worn way to end a mystery tale, as the detective moves from suspect to suspect revealing the story’s hidden bones.)
LA playwright Wendy Gough Soroka uses the merry-go-round structure for her new play, Cake. She sets her carousel spinning in a college town, where a play about 15th-century monks is onstage — but she upends the tired academe=monastery trope, with this campus feeling more like a singles resort.
As in any circular story, Soroka’s 21 swift scenes (averaging four minutes) push one another along, plotwise. But — making the ride worthwhile — they’re also linked thematically, in a quiet progression that has us, at the end, pondering the value of empathy.
Cake moves fast, with no wasted moments, like a TV chef. And it’s consistently amusing. But what emerges from the oven is no sugary confection — it’s a nourishing reflection on how we learn to treat one another. (The best amusement, after all, leads us to muse a bit.)
Theatre Unleashed, in their constantly redecorated little box (“Anything but black!” seems to be the motto), serves up Soroka’s gateau with energy and skill. Tamazine Fritz lays out a simple, versatile set built for 20-second changes; Aaron Lyons’ sound helps expand the playing space into offstage areas; and Lisa K. Wyatt whips the pace, letting moments breathe but not settle.
It’s an ensemble piece, each actor helping to move furniture quietly then slipping into character full-force. Tracey Collins, with wry comic skills, invokes the madcap campus, then shows us a mother locked in an acerbic love duet with her daughter. As that daughter (and author of the monks’ play, and mate in a maddeningly mutual codependency), Kiré Horton holds her character as steady as a carousel horse through the dizzying ride.
Jim Blanchette — stepping in on short notice this night– gently anchors both his volatile wife (Collins) and the clueless novice monk he’s saddled with (Lee Pollero). Liz Fenning admits us into the frantic struggle of a precocious preschooler’s beleaguered mother, while Courtney Sara Bell brings (as always) calm power and intelligent wit into the circling chaos. And Theresa Stroll does a delightful turn as a lit major who, made bold by love, unleashes her inner anarchic nerd.
In recent years, the Unleashed troupe has shown they can take on anything from Moliere to a 24-hour playmaking festival and give it a strong, intelligent staging. They’re doing that for Soroka’s Cake, and it’s a party worth attending.
Cake, by Wendy Gough Soroka, directed by Lisa K. Wyatt.
Presented by Theatre Unleashed at The Belfry Stage, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood 91602.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, through Nov. 21.
(and director, actor and mask artrist) Wendy Gough Soroka To be fair, we like it because it works