Bekah Bruntstetter’s play “The Cake” combines a number of timely topics with a confectionary smorgasbord for the eyes, and a highly-charged look at more than one relationship teetering on the edge. The production centers around the well-known Supreme Court case that first inspired Brunstetter—Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in which a Colorado baker refused to create a wedding cake for an LGBTQ+ couple. The court sided with the store owner on the basis of religious freedom.
The cast…bring[s] true pathos, depth, and dimension to their performances…Prologue Theatre has a winner on their hands…
The play essentially follows two primary storylines (though there are a few more intriguing subplots in the mix as well). The point at which these central storylines come crashing together is what makes for some delightful performances that also manage to leave one with a sobering feeling about the world and where it might be headed.
Macy and Jen, a lesbian couple, are planning a wedding. Living in New York City, they’ve made the trip down to North Carolina to Jen’s hometown where they intend to tie the knot. Among their first stops is Della’s bakery. Della, as luck would have it, was a near and dear friend of Jen’s deceased mother…or perhaps, “luck” is a loaded word in this context. Knowing the girl “Jenny” was, and having insight into her departed mother’s hardline approach to life (love and anything that circumvented the “norm”), Della finds herself at an emotional and moral crossroads. With a not-so-neat and far-from-tidy theatrical bow, it boils down to, does she bake the cake or doesn’t she?
This is very much a story about Della’s internal struggle—how it manifests both in her increasingly strained relationship with Jen, and also in her ability to bake her cakes while trying desperately to ignore her very opinionated, British-accented conscience, embodied by the imagined voice of a “judge” from “The Big American Bake-Off” on which she is slated to appear. It is also, at heart, a story about two women, Jen and Macy, who realize that they are navigating very different worlds here. The question is, can their relationship sustain the inevitable collision of these worlds?
The dialogue is quite clever and extremely relevant. The topics covered are of the moment: everything from the afore-mentioned Supreme Court case, a Paula Deen-inspired cancel culture debate, and to even the undercurrent of Northern versus Southern attitudes when it comes to social justice, the relevance of religion, cultural liberalism, and LGBTQ+ rights. Audiences really don’t have a moment here to rest on their ideological laurels—whatever those ideologies might be.
While the play may get a bit too cutesy at turns, the bigger-picture themes create a cohesive theatrical moment that draws you into some critical debates. This play, for me personally, hit a bit close to home. After all, theatre is nothing if not personal. My fiancée and I are planning a wedding. It has amazed and infuriated me that, upon phoning venues and churches, our leadoff question has had to be, “do you accommodate same-sex weddings?” What Brunstetter gives us is deeper insight into this very dilemma, forcing us to look at both sides—whether we want to or not.
The cast absolutely kills it. Even during those “fluffier” script moments, they bring true pathos, depth, and dimension to their performances. As the hard-edged, skeptical Brooklynite Macy, Sabrina Lynne Sawyer offers both cynicism and softness that she blends perfectly. Tara Forseth’s Jen is the more naïve counterpoint to her partner and yet her endearing naiveté is what coaxes theatergoers to rally around her. As Della’s husband, Tim, Sam Lunay presents an interpretation of the character that snuggly fits into all the stereotypes audiences might conjure about this kind of “guy,” but he also deftly deconstructs those stereotypes when called upon. Then, of course, there is Nicole Hamos as Della. In Hamos’ hands, this part becomes almost too big for the stage she’s on. She gives us the gamut of emotions and isn’t afraid to leave it all out there. Acclaimed theatre director, Anne Bogart, wrote that “the essence of good theater is the human connection.” The strength of the connections that Hamos is able to forge in the 90+ minutes she’s allotted is astounding. Even in the white spaces of her performance, she reaches a hand out to all of us in an effort to connect.
Aria Velz’s direction is everything you hoped it would be and more. She seamlessly ushers audiences through, at times, a whirlwind of topics and themes, eliciting both big laughs and moments of disbelief along the way. The highly clever, modular set design by Jason Tamborini brings this North Carolina bakery to life. You really do feel as though you’re front and center in the cake shop and in the couples’ bedrooms. Lighting by Helen Garcia-Alton and sound design by Justin Schmitz are icing on the cake—pun intended. Alexa Duimstra’s costumes are perfectly suited to underline what makes each of these characters unique.
Prologue Theatre has a winner on their hands with this production. You genuinely feel as though you get to be a part of pivotal moments in these characters’ lives as they each, in their own way, compel you to think about “sides,” about love, and about the right to marry.
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for adults only. Mild sexual content, coarse language, and partial nudity.
“The Cake” runs through February 26, 2023, presented by The Prologue Theatre, in association with NextStop Theatre Company, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002. For more information and tickets, click here. NOTE: All patrons must wear masks in the theater space.