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The Cake: bittersweet, delicious

by | May 18, 2019 | Review | 3 comments

Pacific Theatre is presenting The Cake.

Erla Faye Forsyth is one of the best actors in Vancouver. Whether or not you already know that, go see her in The Cake. (Photo by Javier Sotres)

I’m so grateful.

Pacific Theatre’s production of The Cake is coming at the right time — at the necessary time. With Alabama’s virtual ban on abortion just the latest in states’ restrictions of female autonomy, the Trump administration’s assault on LGBTQ rights, and the pursuit of similar agendas by Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta, it’s frighteningly clear just how hostile populist conservatism is to anything other than cis white hetero male supremacy.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the tenderness of The Cake— not to mention its wit.

In Bekah Brunstetter’s play, which premiered in 2017, Jen has returned home to North Carolina, where she plans to get married, and Jen wants Della, her deceased mom’s best friend, to bake her wedding cake. Della, who runs a bakery and who’s about to appear on a nationwide TV baking show, is thrilled — until she finds out that Jen’s betrothed is an outspoken black woman named Macy. Della claims that race isn’t an issue for her, but she’s a conservative Christian and she believes that heterosexuality is the norm decreed by God.

Perhaps the greatest strength of The Cake is that it doesn’t demonize Della. Predictably, she struggles with the conflict between her faith and her love for Jen; more movingly, The Cake places that struggle within the context of Della’s attempts to assert her independence and sexuality within her own marriage — because, in the larger arena, independence and sexuality are what’s at stake for everybody. So Della is a sister whether we want to admit it or not. And she knows what oppression feels like whether she wants to admit it or not.

Playwright Brunstetter has fun with the limitations of Della’s perspective: Della believes the world would be a better place if cake was just free for everybody, for instance — including all of the members of ISIS. But Brunstetter also endows Della with dignity and a clever tongue: describing a gluten-free cake, the character says, “It tasted like the back of my mouth after I’ve had a good cry.”

Playing Della, actor Erla Faye Forsyth gives a downright miraculous performance. There’s so much going on in it — in a scene in which Della attempts to seduce her husband, for instance, there’s vulnerability, rage, sorrow, and desire.

As Jen, Stephanie Elgersma matches Forsyth step for step. Her Jen is often playful and girlish — as Jen admits, she still has some growing up to do — but Elgersma also brings such a shattering depth of feeling that her performance is one of the reasons I found it difficult to speak after the show.

Lauchlin Johnston’s set design is another miracle. In the cramped alley that’s Pacific Theatre’s stage, Johnston has created the prettiest little shop for Della — all pale pink and soft green, display cases piled with dreamy confections. In remarkably complete scene changes that are made more magical by Michael K. Hewitt’s twinkling lights and Rick Colhoun’s tinkling sound, the shop transforms into two separate bedrooms, where the couples converse. These set changes involve pulleys. They are impressive.

There’s no intermission in director Angela Konrad’s production, which runs over an hour and a half. That’s a good choice — breaking the show up would interrupt its emotional accumulation — but the script gets into a murky zone at about the two-thirds or three-quarters mark that made me want less angst and clearer narrative progression.

Still, The Cake was the perfect antidote for my morning dog walk, on which I met a man wearing a T-shirt that featured an image of Abraham Lincoln in a Trump cap and during which I encountered another dog walker I’ve been friendly with. She also supports Trump and she makes jokes about immigration that she thinks are sly.

THE CAKE By Bekah Brunstetter. Directed by Angela Konrad. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Friday, May 17. Continues until June 8.Tickets.


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  1. Lorraine Graves

    Ah, Colin. You can write circles around me. Love your review and heartily agree with it!

    • Colin Thomas

      Thanks! That’s very nice of you to say. 🙂

  2. Daphne

    I thought this play was one of the best, most moving productions I’ve seen in Vancouver in years.


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