Georgette Kleier & Adama Abramson in The Cake. Photo: Bill Brymer
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By Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Michael Drury
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
As soon as you see the title and know it’s being produced by Pandora, it isn’t difficult to guess the topic of Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake. Yet the playwright is more interested in the intimate human conflicts behind the hot-button polemics.
Della (Georgette Kleier) is a North Carolina baker who makes cakes out of love and is poised to be a contestant on The Great American Bake Off. But Jen (Katherine Martin) the daughter of her deceased best friend, arrives from NYC with a request to make the cake for her upcoming wedding to Macy (Adama Abramson) who is a Black woman.
The request proves difficult for Della because of her deep-seated Christianity, and thus The Cake goes exactly where we expected it to, but in unexpected ways. Brunstetter mostly avoids the familiar speeches – we know the arguments from both sides – and explores the much more personal conflicts with the characters, particularly Della and Jen. The situation prompts self-examination for both women, who are clearly surrogates for a mother-daughter relationship missing in both of their lives.
For Della and her husband, Tim (Joseph Hatfield) have never been able to have children. Tim is the least developed character and his dialogue is the bluntest expression of the conservative Christian objection, but eventually, we will learn about his own insecurities. And Macy is a stark contrast to all three, but Brunstetter excavates meaningful insight in her relationship with Jen.
That the playwright does this while also maintaining respect and even affection for characters referred to as “bigots” illustrates how little we stop to consider the beating hearts behind the headlines. But she also insists that actions have consequences.
Eric Allgeier’s set design of Della’s Bakery made many in the audience hope for samples, and apparently, the pre-pandemic script calls for that. It is a beauty. The other design work calls less attention to itself in comparison, but Susan Neeson Toy’s costumes are always accurate and well-observed, and Jessie Alford’s lighting is on the money.
Georgette Kleier occupies her role with great authority and command. This is Della’s place in the world and Kleier magnificently inhabits her in all of her steel magnolia glory. Equal parts charm, sincerity, and faith, with a dash of obsequiousness, the performance is almost perfect.
Katherine Martin is her equal, and although this is a comedy, both performances demand steely energy and raw emotion as the conflict forces much-needed self-examination. Although Jen has taken up a much different life in NYC, she acknowledges the pain of how much it contradicts her upbringing, and Martin is fearless in capturing these complex insecurities.
If the other actors make slightly less impact, it is because they are slightly less developed. Macy’s words most obviously articulate the polemical perspective, and given how much empathy we are made to have for both Della and Jen, it has the effect of distancing the character a bit. The play requires it, I think, but Abramson pushes past that with intelligence. Hatfield connects to the audience when the play uses him to deliver some humor bordering on slapstick, with a couple of outrageous pieces of business that leaven the heavier moments surrounding them, yet even Tim is given space, and Hatfield doesn’t waste the opportunity.
We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people, which means you may come away from The Cake questioning your own assumptions about people outside of your circle. At certain moments it can seem as if Brunstetter is a bit to symmetrical in the writing, yet she leaves enough loose threads to acknowledge that we have met this quartet in a small but important moment of change that is part of a longer journey. Those open wounds and first steps of reconciliation are given such vivid reality in the playing, and the final moments of the play is a deceptively simple exchange that is hard won.
January 14, 15, 20, 21, & 22 @ 7:30 pm
January 17 @ 5:30 pm
January 23 @ 2:00 pmPandora Productions
The Henry Clay Theater
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.