By Seth Reines, December 2018 Issue.
A baker refuses to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Sound familiar? That’s how The Cake, Stray Cat Theatre’s current production by This Is Us writer Bekah Brunstetter, begins.
The comedy is inspired by the 2012 Supreme Court decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Since then, the “Gay Wedding Cake Wars” have been fueled by vendors who feel it would compromise their religious beliefs to help celebrate such a union.
In most cases, the bakers and spouses-to-be are strangers. But what if they aren’t? What if the baker was the best friend of the bride’s mom?
The play’s protagonist Jen lives in New York but has always dreamed of getting married in her small North Carolina hometown. She heads south with her partner Macy, an African-American New Yorker, to ask Della, a much sought-after baker and the best friend of Jen’s late mother, to create their wedding cake. Della is, at first, overjoyed at Jen’s request until she realizes there’s not just one bride, but two. This forces her to re-examine some of her deeply-held beliefs, as well as her own marriage. Food, faith, and family loyalty take center stage in a paradigm-shifting comedy.
“The Dellas of the world are wonderful, loving people,” playwright Brunstetter states. “I want Jen and Macy to be full human beings, and I want us to root for their love. But there are lots of plays and movies about Jen and Macy. There really aren’t very many about Della.”
Brunstetter began writing and workshopping The Cake after reading about cake-based conflicts across the country. While working on the piece, she wondered what would happen if she were ever to bring a female lover home to meet her folks. (Brunstetter is straight and her parents are opposed to gay marriage.)
For The Cake, Brunstetter drew on her own life: her love of The Great British Bake Off (in the play, Della dreams of competing in a mythical American version of the show), her childhood memories of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the disgraced Food Network star Paula Deen.
Like her This Is Us character Kate (played by Chrissy Metz), the once overweight playwright received a letter from her fellow classmates telling her they no longer wanted to play with her. “I will never forget that,” she admits. But adds, as a writer, “You kind of want that awful pain: grist for the mill.”
Ron May, artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre observed, “The play is as timely as timely gets. It’s literally ripped from the headlines in terms of the setup. Brunstetter’s writing is incredible. If you’ve ever seen This is Us, you know how funny the show can be. You also know the kind of emotional wallop that show can deliver. This play is no different. Honestly, there is so much conversation about art in the age of Trump, and where it frequently lands is on vicious satire or blatant attacks, which absolutely has its place. This play has the balls to take a conservative character – Della, the baker – and make her the center of the story and doesn’t patronize, doesn’t judge, doesn’t pander, doesn’t eviscerate. As a result, it makes the conversation so, so much richer. The play asks what can happen if we actually stop digging our heels in long enough to really listen to one another, and the results are profoundly moving. It goes so far above and beyond “preaching to the choir” in how it portrays its characters. It’s a pretty special work.”
StageScene-LA agreed, “Bekah Brunstetter has written that rarity among LGBT-themed plays, one that might actually inspire baby steps towards mutual understanding.”
Stray Cat Theatre’s tasty The Cake is in its final performances at Tempe Center for the Arts. For tickets, visit straycattheatre.org.