By Bekah Brunstetter. Directed by Angela Konrad. Produced by Pacific Theatre.
How does one cross a bridge to a place they’ve never dared to venture?
This is the question The Cake, a charming, if flawed play produced at the Pacific Theatre, presents. The play centers around Della (Erla Faye Forsyth,) an aging, beautifully jaded and devoutly Christian cake artist, who is just weeks away from living her dreams on a major American baking show. She quickly exclaims how she bases her life around following the rules, a rather un-subtle testament to how her character will choose to act for the whole show, which is a common theme throughout the play.
Della finds herself in a moral dilemma when her unofficial goddaughter, Jen (Stephanie Elgersma,) comes in and asks her to bake a cake for her wedding. At first, Della is delighted to, but quickly finds herself too busy when she finds out Jen is marrying an African American lesbian and journalist, Macy (Cecilly Day.) This causes Della to not only reevaluate her faith, but her loyalty to her Jen, her marriage and even her sex life.
Unfortunately, the play falls short in fully analyzing this issue, mostly due to the stereotypes a few characters are based out of. Although charming, both the characters of Macy, and Della’s husband Tim (Tim Dixon,) feel like stock characters, and this really sticks out among the complex and nuanced characters of Jen and Della. Macy in particular, being the main liberal voice in the show, feels like a reduced, obvious and stereotyped version of the layered, black, queer journalist she could have been. This leads to the many scenes between Della and Macy feeling not only grating, but one-sided as Macy goes on tirades about the addictiveness of sugar and dangers of global warming, seemingly at random. This same issue carries itself into most of the first half of the play, and unfortunately results in most of the characters not changing their perspectives at all throughout the journey of the show.
However, that does not mean the play wasn’t enjoyable, in fact, it was a thrill. There is a lot of humour, beauty and honesty between the characters, and it’s hard not to find yourself understanding each of the characters’ often polarizing perspectives despite the at times flat writing. The show is at its best when the focus is not on the political debate at hand, but on the broken and vulnerable connections between all of the characters. Particularly, the relationships between the two couples, and the bond between Jen and Della hold lots of truth and quirkiness, and result in very enjoyable banter. The honest and brilliant performances of all the cast members really did carry the show, and the only times I noticed the acting quality diminish was when the writing led the way. Notably, Erla Faye Forsyth gives a layered and informed performance of Della, taking us through the journey of her doubt with passion and clarity. I found myself embracing, laughing with, and loving all of the characters on stage, despite any qualms or frustrations I may have had with their perspectives.
The set design (Lauchlin Johnston) and lighting design (Michael K. Hewitt,) deserve commendations as well. For such a small space, the set and lighting were absolutely breathtaking, and did a great job of keeping me engaged in what could have been very long and tedious set transitions.
If you are looking for a play that genuinely analyzes how we can move forward when religion and culture divides us, The Cake is perhaps not the show for you, but it absolutely deserves a watch for the genuine performances and hilarious antics it includes.
I would recommend anyone to go and see The Cake. It is not a perfect piece of theatre, but I did not regret watching it, and I doubt anyone else would either.
Playing at Pacific Theatre from Saturday, May 18 to June 8th.
Review by: Anthony Goncharov