TR Robertson — The final play of the La Jolla Playhouse 2017/18 Season will leave theatre goers thinking about their own personal beliefs and how they fit in to today’s moral and social acceptance. Playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake” looks at stereotyping, cultural differences, moral conflicts, sexual standards, religious beliefs systems, political differences and much more. As patrons entered the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, the colorful inside of Della’s Sweet’s shop and the prop cakes in the glass cases, along with the low sounds of Bluegrass music, gave no hint to the tension that would soon rise in the 90 minute play.
Brunstetter wrote the play using the character Jen to represent much of her beliefs and frustrations. The premise of the play surrounds two young women who return to the hometown of one of the women to be married and to have a cake designed by a long-time family friend. The hometown is in North Carolina, the soon-to-be married couple are of the same sex and one is white and one is black and the bake shop is run by a conservative, religious older white woman. A perfect storm is brewing and the young couple finds their marriage plans run into obstacles that may be too large to overcome, leading them and the bake shop owner and her husband questioning all they believe in and what their own personal relationships are built around.
The play comes at a time when the Supreme Court of the United States will soon be ruling on a similar situation in Masterpiece Cake Shop vs Colorado Civil Right Commission. This particular case involves Charlie Craig and David Mullins who were to be married and wanted their wedding cake designed by the Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado. The case questions just how much a business can discriminate on religious grounds vs the First Amendment Rights of individuals. A decision on this case is expected soon.
Photos by Jim Carmody
Brunstetter was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina along with 3 brothers, all of whom would end up in the marines. She would attend liberal colleges and eventually end up in Los Angeles. The characters in her play would reflect the life she grew up around and situations that she has seen throughout her life. Recently Brunstetter has been a writer for the acclaimed “American Gods” on Starz and is a writer and co-producer on the award winning NBC’s “This is Us”.
Playing Della, the Sweet shop owner, is Faith Prince. Prince is a Tony Award winning actress. She presents a wonderful over-the-top Southern lady who loves her life as a cake maker, soon to be on the “Great American Baking Show”. Della is funny, caring, and religious but as we begin to understand, a woman who is in conflict, both morally and personally. She is not willing to bake the cake Jen wants for her wedding, using the excuse of being overbooked for the October wedding. The arrival of Jen and her friend will set this all in motion. Brunstetter adds clever asides, highlighted by hundreds of blue lights on stage and the omnipresent voice of a Brit named George, the host of the “Great American Baking Show”. George speaks to Della, as she imagines participating in the contest, but George’s presence will soon be questioning Della’s personal conflicts. The voice of George, whom we never see, is played by Jeffrey Howard Ingman.
Jen is played by Aubrey Dollar, making her La Jolla Playhouse debut. Jen wants everything to go perfectly for her wedding, but as things begin to unravel, so does her personal relationships and her own beliefs about the direction her life has taken. Playing the edgier Macy is Miriam A. Human, also making her La Jolla Playhouse debut. Macy is an African-American journalist who questions everything, constantly taking notes. She is the liberal voice, stereotypically against sugar, gluten free, agnostic, and definitely not desirous of being in the South. As Jen begins to question her life and what has brought her to this point, Macy tries to bring her back to what brought them together and wanting her to ignore what is going on around them.
Later in the play we meet Della’s husband Tim, played by former La Jolla Playhouse actor Wayne Duvall. Duvall has become a very successful film and television actor as well. Tim is a hard working southern gentleman, who we find out loves Della, but has become sexually uninterested over the years, from a personal issue he has dealt with. Tim is funny, but we will also witness a very emotional, sad side to Tim. Duvall’s scene with Prince in the bake shop leaves you on the edge of your seat. It is one of those moments that starts out as a funny take on life and ends up as a tense, uncomfortable scene as Della and Tim begin to question what their own married life has become.
Making her debut at the La Jolla Playhouse and directing “The Cake” is Casey Stangl. Stangl has worked throughout playhouses in the United States and serves on the Executive Board of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. A talented production crew brought together a very enjoyable and visual set with clever special effects. Scenic Designer David F. Weiner’s bake shop and side bedrooms fit the story line perfectly. Lighting Designer Elizabeth Harper effectively provides a variety of lighting moods depending on what is going on in the scene. Also important to the overall mood and story development in the play is Costume Designer Denitsa Bliznakova, Sound Designer Paul James Perdergast, Dialect Coach Eva Barnes, and Stage Manager Katrina Herrmann.
This is a play that will have you thinking about what is going on in our society right now as well as having you taking a look at your own personal beliefs. With all of the tension and emotional development of the play, there is a ray of hope and optimism offered at the end.
“The Cake” will be at the La Jolla Playhouse until March 4th. Ticket prices range from $20 to $65 and can be purchased at www.Lajollaplayhouse.org or call 858-550-1010. Plays on Tuesdays are called Talkback Tuesdays and theatre goers get a chance to speak with some of the actors and actresses about the play and their roles. The first play for the 2018 season will be Robert Askins “The Squirrels” beginning on June 5th.