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Digging Into 'The Cake' with Kris Sidberry

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Dec 25, 2019
Digging Into 'The Cake' with Kris Sidberry

After a long run in Boston's theater community — complete with critical praise and several award nominations — Kris Sidberry moved to New York, as so many of Boston's most promising actors do. With her career branching out into film and television roles, Sidberry still found time earlier this year to return to The Hub for a role in SpeakEasy Stage Company's "School Girls: or, The African Mean Girls Play," which ran last May.

Now, on the cusp of another major move — this time to Los Angeles — Sidberry returns to Boston once again for The Lyric Stage Company's production of Bekah Brunstetter's ripped-from-the-headlines 2017 comedy "The Cake," in which a deeply religious North Carolina baker named Della (Karen MacDonald) welcomes Jen (Chelsea Diehl), the daughter of her recently deceased best friend, back home... only to discover, to her dismay, that Jen's upcoming wedding involves not a groom, but another bride.

You can guess what happens next: Della, though torn by the decision, opts not to bake Jen's wedding cake because her religion condemns lifelong commitment between two people of the same gender. But that's just the beginning of the twists and tribulations that Della and Jen must traverse.

The powder keg of a situation finds plenty of sparks in Macy (Sidberry), Jen's fiancée. A native New Yorker, Macy has little patience for what she sees as the backwards ways of Jen's North Carolina extended family. Then too, Macy's brush with Christianity's attitudes toward LGBTQ people includes her own father — educated and enlightened in so many other ways — chucking a Bible at her head when he finds out that his daughter is gay. Furiously protective of Jen, Macy charges into a minefield where Southern manners would scarcely dare to tread, blowing open the doubts and questions that Della is only starting to crack into in her own mind.

When it comes to the things we believe, how much should we be willing to sacrifice to abide by the dogmas we've been handed and asked to swallow whole? When it comes to the people we love, how much do we dare surrender of the things that shape and clarify our personal identities? And how, how in God's name can people expect to make a decent cake without the proper amount of butter? "The Cake" explores these themes, and more, with deft humor and emotionally devastating precision.

EDGE caught up with Kris Sidberry to hear about the play, her character, and the ways in which today's world — no cake walk for minorities of any sort — is not, perhaps, so very different from the kinder and more hopeful place it supposedly was just a few years ago.


Karen MacDonald in 'The Cake'  (Source:Lyric Stage Company)

EDGE: You have many Boston stage credits, including "Meet Vera Stark" and "Intimate Apparel" at the Lyric Stage, but now you are in New York. What brought you back to partake in "The Cake?"

Kris Sidberry: Well, to be honest, I am moving to Los Angeles in February. I'd missed the stage for a couple of years, and then [I got cast in] "Schoolgirls" at the SpeakEasy. The stage is what I love, and if I have the time to take the show, why not? And ["The Cake"] such a lovely piece of theater that's pretty poignant right now, I think.

EDGE: Would you say a few words about the LAS, which you co-founded, and which is described as an "all-female experimental movement company?" Are you taking that to L.A. with you?

Kris Sidberry: Oh, yeah! So, I studied at the Maggie Flanagan Studio, and we had this wonderful movement program. I was very fortunate; I had my class that I went through conservatory with, and we all fell so in love with the movement technique that we decided to found our own movement company. Right now, the way the company is, people can kind of come in and out of it as they please, so I have let it go because I have [been busy with] other projects. But my movement teacher, the one who is kind of like our mentor, is also moving to L.A. at the same time that I am, so hopefully it won't be that reiteration but maybe something else in L.A., which would be wonderful. I think so much of art — like, dance; people think it's just "art with the body." There's so much storytelling that can be done without words, just using he body. I think that's an untapped resource in the art world.

EDGE: "The Cake" takes on the issue of wedding vendors who feel it's a violation of their civil rights to be required to serve gay and lesbian couples. This is a very difficult question, of course, because it's never easy to weight one person or group's rights against the rights of another person or group... did this show inform or change your thinking around the subject?

Kris Sidberry: Oh, that's a tough one... um, yes and no. I am from the South originally, so while I am very lucky that my parents are very open-minded, that's not the society I grew up in. I have always been able to see both sides of the coin. I am still figuring it out, because in my mind I don't understand why anyone would not — baking a cake, like, it's business, right? It's hard for me to understand the other side of that.

I think this show actually makes you ask more questions than it answers, and that's one of the things I like about the show. It really doesn't give you any, necessarily, "This is what's right, this is what's wrong." Also, the way it's written, it does a good job of showing both sides of [people] coming [into a situation] with assumptions [about one another]. Sometimes you can't meet in the middle.

EDGE: Your character, Macy, is very certain that Della the baker is wrong; she calls Della wrong to her face, and calls her a bigot. As you explore Macy's character, what do you find is behind those forceful convictions on her part? Is it that she's from the big city, or she's less religious — or is it maybe a matter of her own intersectionality, and her experience as a lesbian of color?

Kris Sidberry: I think a lot of it has to do with her dad!

[Laughter]


Kris Sidberry and Karen MacDonald in 'The Cake'  (Source:Lyric Stage Company)

Kris Sidberry: If your dad throws a Bible at your head because you're different... I mean, she makes a big point of how the only thing she has seen from the Christian side is hate, in the worst way possible, like when a parent rejects their child. We were exploring this a little last night; how Macy really hasn't been around that; her parents weren't married, and [she grew up thinking] how can something be right when it's drawn from a belief system that's thousands of years old? I think she's intellectualized it so much that it's unfathomable to her that you could think that. And then her father threw a Bible at her head — that has got to be a pretty traumatizing experience.

EDGE: That definitely comes out when she tells Della that her fiancée, Jen, has nightmares about going to Hell, and she blames Della for that.

Kris Sidberry: She does blame Della for that, but she also has her own trauma with that sort of experience, too.

EDGE: Macy makes a good point, though — Della and her husband can't have children, so she asks Della what her marriage is all about, if marriage is supposed to be about kids and they can't have any.

Kris Sidberry: Exactly, and I think that is kind of a crux for Della. Macy is not wrong in that! That is such a hard scene; we're trying to work that scene out. We worked on that a lot last night, and we'll work on it again tonight.

EDGE Figuring out how much of it is debate, and how much is a punch to the gut?

Kris Sidberry: Yeah, and Macy does make some hard points. Macy comes in assuming some things that actually aren't what was going on. It's funny how Della doesn't... like, Macy asks, "What did you say to her?" [after an exchange with Della leaves Jen upset]. Della doesn't tell Macy that she told Jen the truth about what Jen's mom said; she just says, "I told her the truth." So Macy has assumed all these things, and she comes in with guns blazing. I think that's what we do: One side [just yells], "Well, you're this, and you're that!" That's a lot of what we do in America [right now]. We fight over these things instead of maybe asking more questions.

EDGE: We live in an age in which it's starting to feel like the progress of the last fifty years is either evaporating, or was never real to begin with. Have you felt on a personal level that there's a rising tide of prejudice — or maybe just less pretense around prejudicial attitudes?

Kris Sidberry: It's always been there... but again, I grew up in the South. I'm actually very much like Macy. I, too, was almost 200 pounds around [the same age she was]; I was the only black female student in my school for a very long time; I was the first to ever graduate that had ever been there all through high school, and that school was founded in 1969. So, I always think it's funny that [there's an idea of] "Trump is making people this way!" I'm, like, people have always been this way. I'm glad that everyone else sees it now... but I have always grown up in this world.

EDGE: So, none of this is a surprise, really.

Kris Sidberry: No! I kind of laugh about this ironically, and my friends of color laugh about it, too. I'm glad that other people know, now, that the world still has not changed. I think that's the most sad part — that nothing has really progressed. Just, maybe people have more manners about it, and the access to social media makes it quicker, so it seems like it's happening all the time. But to me, this is just the way the world has been.


"The Cake" runs Jan. 10 - Feb. 9, 2020, at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.lyricstage.com/productions/the-cake/


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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