In what can only be best described as the irony of ironies, playwright Bekah Brunstetter wrote her play The Cake in response to what is now known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The play revolves around two women who are celebrating their marriage ceremony in North Carolina and the baker who refuses a request to bake their wedding cake.
The actual court case has been in litigation for nearly six years. As part of the Alley Theatre’s Alley All New project, a reading of an early draft of The Cake was held in 2017. While the play has had a handful of productions, it rolled into the Alley on the weekend of June 1. The following Monday, the Supreme Court, in a controversial 7-2 decision, ruled in favor of the baker. (You can bet Notorious RBG wrote the dissenting opinion.)
The reality of the modern life is always more serious than the theatrical version of same. Brunstetter, in addition to having several other plays under her belt, also produces and writes episodes for television shows like American Gods and This Is Us.
The Cake unfolds in a manner that allows the audience to sympathize with each of the main characters, and for different reasons.
We first meet Della, the proprietor of a cake shop — the walls of which are lined with delightful examples of everything from cookbooks and jars of condiments to its signature pink lemonade cake. Julia Gibson brings a compelling backstory to this good ‘ol girl who dreams of competing on a television Great Bake Off show.
Next Macy (Candice D’Meza) walks into Della’s shop, at first hesitant to sample sugar but settling for plain coffee. Macy’s fiancée Jen (Elizabeth Stahlman) turns out to be the daughter of Della’s best friend. Each of the three actresses is given a credible and sustainable arc.
Della at first makes excuses and claims her schedule precludes baking said cake in the appointed month. Macy instantly dislikes Della, but by play’s end has formed a tentative friendship with her. Meanwhile, Jen totally embraces Della, since her mother has passed, as her token godmother, only to reject her values as hypocritical to her own beliefs.
It’s quite a series of arcs that Brunstetter offers the audience. The only other character, Della’s husband Tim, lacks the same three-dimensional characteristics of the ladies. Tim’s only emotions are gruff and compliant. Another off-stage character is the voice of the television contest announcer, which Della constantly hears in her head as she prepares for the upcoming show.
As a whole, The Cake offers food for thought, but will not be likely to change anybody’s mind. The unfortunate truth remains that well-written satire mostly speaks to the enlightened. Business owners who restrict their customers based on religious beliefs practically never take in the theater. If they did, they would find the well-earned laughs in The Cake cater to a sitcom mentality.
The Cake plays at the Alley Theatre through July 1.