Friday, February 16, 2018

Playhouse “The Cake” Has Many Layers In Which To Sink Your Teeth.

One might think that a cake, layered, chocolate, Bundt, yellow (white) decorated for a child, or wedding would be well…just a cake.

But a funny thing happened on the way to ordering a wedding cake for Jen (Aubrey Dollar), a white conservative born and bred in North Carolina with conservative values instilled in her core from childhood, and her partner and soon to be wife, Macy (Miriam A. Hyman) a New Yorker, “black, a woman, tall and queer, agnostic, liberal, and judgmental…in a world not designed for me…”

Jen and Macy find themselves in Jen’s small home -town in North Carolina where most everyone is of the same belief system according to the Bible and there is little room for compromise. If it says so in the Bible, and they can quote it chapter and verse, it’s the word: “Hand to God”. But that doesn’t stop Jen from asking Della to make their wedding cake.
Faith Prince as Della in La Jolla Playhouse's "The Cake"
The owner of the bakery, Jen’s deceased mother’s best friend Della (Faith Prince) learns that Jen’s ‘husband’ is a woman when she asks who the husband is, and oops, she has no time on her books to make a wedding cake for them. Subtle babbling excuses pour out as Macy, waiting in the wings, is doing a slow burn. Jen is more accepting at face value and believes Della’s word.

Della has known Jen all her life, thinks of her as a daughter, is torn between her religion and her friendship with Jen’s mother and so the conflict of ‘let them eat cake’ or not from her bakery spills over to the point of putting Jen and Macy’s relationship in danger of falling apart as well.

This is our new normal with a case pending in Colorado. A male couple was refused service at the “Masterpiece Cake Shop” and the couple sued the owners of the bakery.  The case is now before the Supreme Court,  “Masterpiece Cake Shop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and should be resolved soon. It didn’t help that Trump already weighed in and favors the bakery owners citing first amendments rights.  

But no matter, the play premiered in 2017 when it was announced the Supreme Court would hear the case.  Such is the state of our union. “The Cake”, demonstrability directed by Casey Stangl, is playing on the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Stage through March 4th.

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake” is and isn’t based on this particular incident according to an interview with the playwright in the Playbill; rather it’s a combination of her love of baking and something ‘human and universal and not divisive.’

BB: “The idea of writing a play about such controversial and polarizing issue as gay marriage, but under the umbrella of cake, was really exciting to me.” 

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of our own way; it is divisive

Adding to this gay induced conflict, Della is enrolled in the ‘Great American Baking Show”, one of her favorite TV Shows.  In her interviews (as time stands still with lighting designer Elizabeth Harper’s red lights flashing) with George (Jeffrey Howard Ingman), her steadfast insistence on following the rules in baking cakes combined with teachings of the Bible (“you are not to sleep with man as a woman”) invites her subconscious voice into her own conflict to speak her truth. 

 Set designer David S.Weiner’s scrumptious looking cake lined cases (beautiful enough to make my salivary glands work overtime) along with an earnest and convincing cast, dressed by Denitsa Bliznakova, pushed me past the point of my annoyance in the preachy dialogue that allows me to put a plus mark in the oft times funny and oft times humanly possible columns of Brunstetter’s play.

Bouncy and spirited Faith Prince leads the charge with her overly enthusiastic convictions of the right way to bake and frost a cake as she takes us on a tour of her celebrity bakery. Her southern accent is spot on (Eva Barnes).

When called upon to reveal her hidden most secrets she has our undivided attention and when she appeals to her husband describing her loneliness, one’s heart can break.

The playwright’s need to off set that tenderness with two off the wall and kooky (that’s not cookie) actions on Della and Tim’s behalf is an unnecessary diversion.(Think spreading cake frosting on ones body and covering your private parts with mashed potato's.) 

Wayne Duvall’s Tim is as honest a broker as he can be. If Della listens to her husband Tim’s dogma there’s nothing to decide; the answer is “NO”. He doesn’t waver in his unforgiving behaviors that are oft times obnoxious, oft time brutally honest yet having enough of an emotional swing to let his hair down and convince us and Della the why of his keeping her at arms lengths. It’s heartfelt and authentic.
Miriam A. Hyman and Aubrey Dollar 
As one not so interested in the items in the case as she is in the mindset of Della, Miriam A. Hyman’s Macy is on target as the alpha female, over confident and pulling no punches in her assessment of hers and Jens relationship that a trip to North Carolina was fraught with danger on several levels.

Assuming that theirs was a loving and caring relationship in Brooklyn that would be sustained in the south, she went along with Jen’s dream of getting married in her North Carolina surroundings, but with caution. Her intuitions and red flags against this decision proved to be born out as soon as Della checked her date book. 

Aubrey Dollar’s soft spoken with understanding southern charm, Jen is the mystery woman secure in her life up north who, for some reason thought things had changed in her home- town just because she knew everyone. Once there, she came face to face with her old self.

The idea of not sleeping in the same bed or room with Macy, because they were not married yet, and the family they were staying with would know, is simply outrageous. Strange things happen when we revert back to our childhood teachings.

The issue of gay rights has taken on a rather nasty tone with this current administration. Issues that were becoming non- issues have suddenly been taken out of perspective as witnessed in the above- mentioned lawsuit; and there are other sightings.

But from the mouths of babes we will move forward. The following is an essay my nine year old grandson wrote on “Equality” :

See you at the theatre

Dates: Through March 4th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: Start at $20.
Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre
Photo: Jim Carmody


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