By Ron Jones |
In The Cake, Rebecca Brunstetter has written a somewhat delicate story with serious overtones. As with any tasty confection, one must choose the perfect ingredients and use them with finesse to make a beautiful creation. And then, the cake is cut, revealing several layers, pretty colors, and a swirl of delicious flavors that reveal its mystery.
This is exactly what Brunstetter (a producer and writer on NBC’s This is Us!) has done. The premise is well known. The depiction of the leading character, Della, a sweet, nonjudgmental Southern Baptist gal from North Carolina (who is an expert and passionate baker) is highly sympathetic. Della is the most popular baker in town and has run her small hometown bakery for many years. When she is asked by her goddaughter Jen to bake a wedding cake for her marriage to her lesbian, African American fiancée, Macy, Della is taken aback. A staunch opponent to same-sex marriage, Della refuses to bake the cake. Her conservative upbringing has taught her to be tactful while attempting to deal with trying social situations. She wrestles with her love for Jen as it collides with her strong religious convictions. But, she can’t bake the cake!
This scenario may seem a bit dated since it is a topic that has been tossed around for several years, but the ruling by a divided Supreme Court this week that absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay male couple has made the issue front page news again. In this case, the Court cited that the state had exercised “religious hostility” against the baker. Such is Della’s dilemma. While Jen is deeply hurt, she must reconcile her feelings knowing that Della is a caring individual who is deeply righteous and lives her life for Jesus. Macy, on the other hand, is vehement in her reactions to Della’s decision. She is obstinate in her views about religious morals, vehement in her own beliefs and refuses to take no for an answer. This is the conflict of The Cake.
Della is played knowingly by Julia Gibson who has acted the role in previous productions. Gibson is charming, loveable, and wholly entertaining. She has great comic ability (perfect timing!) and equips herself beautifully in the role. We understand her reservations fully. As Jen, Elizabeth Stahlmann is graceful, sophisticated, and perplexed by the situation. Gibson and Stahlmann are wonderful in reflecting the close bond between the two women. As Macy, Candice D’Meza (the only local actor in the show) is a force of nature here. She commands her scenes with a sense of confidence seldom seen on stage. Her performance is at once compelling and entertaining. Happily, the fact that Macy is black is barely mentioned in the script and plays little or no part in the relationship between the two young women. Michael Pemberton is fine as Della’s cross husband, Tim. Lighting by David Lander is evocative and effective. Clint Ramos’ set is the perfect reproduction of a cutesy, cozy bakeshop. Director Jackson Gay has directed with a smooth hand. His fluid direction sets the tone for an enjoyable evening.
In all, The Cake is a lesson in social politics, relationships, and self-identity. It is poignant and funny. And it surely makes us think! A bit of irony — Macy is gluten free and doesn’t even eat cake! For tickets, log on to AlleyTheatre.org.