Manhattan Theater Club presents a live streaming of 2019’s The Cake beginning May 13.
When the proprietress of Della’s Sweets in Winston Salem, North Carolina, declares it’s imperative to follow a recipe exactly, she’s talking about more than confections. The baker leads a cheerful, quiet, Christian life. “I know where I came from, why I’m here, and where I’m going.” Right now, that life revolves around an upcoming appearance on The Great American Baking Show, which she anticipates during dimly lit fantasies that grow increasingly bizarre.
Della seems like a cartoon character in perfect bouffant hair and sunny apron. She speaks to us from the kind of charming, colorized, wall-papered shop that might’ve appeared in a 1940s Hollywood dream sequence. (Watch for the cakes to light up.) John Lee Beatty’s terrific set stands in opposition to authentic moral quandaries, yet establishes an accurate tone.
Returning to her hometown from the big city, Jen (Genvieve Angelson) runs into Della’s arms. The baker was her deceased mother’s best friend. They’ve known one another the girl’s entire life. In six months, Jen is going to be married there as per her mother’s wishes. She naturally wants Della to make the cake. The baker would be delighted.
Jen’s black, fiancé, Macy (Marinda Anderson), is awkwardly introduced. They’re a curious pair. The southern girl maintains optimism, naiveté, and deep seated religious roots she keeps at arms length. Macy is New York savvy, agnostic and cynical. They’re in love.
Suddenly Della remembers she must check her order book to see whether she’ll have time to make the cake and finds – surprise! too many orders to accommodate the young women. The Bible is against same sex marriage. Much as she’d like to comply – we do glimpse waffling – old beliefs die hard if at all.
Ever well mannered, Jen hurries out nonplussed at confrontation. This wedding is important to her. Macy, who had to be talked into a ceremony, is angry at obvious bigotry. Both sides of the fence roil. Della tells her plumber husband Tim (Dan Daily) what occurred. “It’s unfair of them to put you in that position,” he responds. Meanwhile, Jen shows signs of learned shame, understandably upsetting Macy. (Only Macy walks the line of cliché.)
Regardless of Della’s feelings about same sex marriage, the couple’s bond is undeniable. Provoked by their happiness, she tries to address a breach in her relationship with Tim. It’s a deft scene – poignant and amusing.
What the baker feels is compromise ,vis-à-vis the wedding, provides a palatable if illusory ending. Della is a sympathetic character, in many ways realistic. When oh, when will this no longer be allowed?
We might cite playwright Bekah Brunstetter for lack of confrontation, but coming from Winston, Salem, she likely knows her people. Characters are believable in context. Though the piece goes down tasty and attractive, one less Bake-Off vision would serve.
In 2012, The Masterpiece Bakery of Denver, Colorado refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on the basis of religious objection. The next year, the pair filed with the state’s Civil Rights Division who found in their favor – that the business would not be legally compromised. After a second hearing, the owner said he hadn’t baked a wedding cake in years because his shop had been too busy fulfilling orders from supporters. In 2018, Trump’s rightest Supreme Court reversed censure.
Debra Jo Rupp is in full control of Della, who’s warm, spunky, sad, and palpably challenged by the situation. Qualities adroitly grow more pronounced in Bake-Off visions. Most of us condemn her choice, but can’t help liking her.
Genevieve Angelson makes an utterly charming, somewhat needy Jen. Like a birth language, church teachings seep back in when home. She’ll need Macy to take care of her. We buy it.
Dialect Coach Deborah Hecht does a splendid job with regional accents.
Note to Props: More convincing mashed potatoes are needed.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Debra Jo Rupp
The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Lynne Meadow