Pandora's "The Cake" follows recipe in serving up the sugar — balanced with nutrients
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By Elizabeth Kramer
Red velvet cake, even outside the South, can stand as a metaphor for the people born and raised there. There’s the soft alluring icing whose temptation is discreet. But cut into the spongy inside and there’s a dramatic red that flares. A hint of this temperament sometimes takes shape in the Southern schadenfreude accompanying the sweet lilt of a voice declaring, “Well, bless her heart.”
Georgette Kleier as Della and Adama Abramson as Macy in Pandora Productions “The Cake” by Bekah Brunstetter. Photo by Bill Brymer
This sticky backbiting is hardly at the forefront in playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake,” now being performed by Pandora Productions. Instead, “The Cake” conjures witty lines amid conflicts that come as its inhabitants work to maintain a cultivated presentation while also icing over their inner emotions and beliefs.
From the onset, there is a sense of the distress beneath the decorum when Della (Georgette Kleier) encounters a visitor named Macy (Adama Abramson) at a table in her bakery. From here on out, director Michael Drury and the cast of “The Cake” deftly infuse scenes with the discomfort that can fester when we deny and hide our own truths — no matter the opulent nature of the surroundings or everyday language.
Nearly all the characters here tightly hold onto many beliefs and bury them deep — often obscuring them with what seems like frivolous explanations for their actions. All of this behavior is set into motion as Jen (Katie Martin) returns to her North Carolina hometown to plan her wedding with her finance Macy, whom she is meeting at Della’s bakery.
Della, an avowed Southerner and maker of elaborate cakes, owns this bakery deliciously decked out in pink and baby blue where a sign inside reads “Life is Sweet … Eat It Up.” (Set designer Eric Allgeier and props designer Ryan Bennett have cooked up a confectioner’s dream here.) Della, who also counts red velvet cake among her sweets, is in the running to be a contestant on “The Great American Baking Show.” Her dreams include winning and capturing the attention of one of the judges, George.
When Jen comes to ask Della, the best friend to Jen’s late mother, problems arise. First, Della’s schedule is too packed, leaving no time to bake Jen and Macy their wedding cake. However, the truth comes out later when she and her husband Tim (Joseph Hatfield) discuss how their Christianity stands in opposition to same-sex unions. It all stands in contradiction to Della’s early declaration about how she rationalizes her decisions: “I focus on my cakes.”
Della says this early on and not long after meeting Macy. Macy, who soon steers the conversation into political topics, finds Della’s attitudes suspicious. From then on, Macy, an outsider to this place, candidly dispenses her views as well as her love for Jen. But her patience can run thin as Jen waffles about completely rejecting her Southern roots.
Each character in “The Cake” has their own conflict to sort out. Macy, who does not have these deep family and community legacies, struggles to understand Jen’s devotion to people who don’t support her choices. Della and Tim reveal their issues, too. They were never able to have children. This history, while never discussed in detail, has weighed on them and Della has dealt with it by building a fantasy life.
Each actor portraying these four people brightens the storyline as they depict these various struggles. Their journeys are encouraging to see at a time in this country when solutions often seem so unattainable.
As each character gains clarity in their conflict, the actors, however, never provide lucid moments that convey the catharsis that usually accompanies the shedding of an old belief for a new one. Martin gives Jen a naivete and effervescence. That ebbs and flows to infuse vigor into the play’s pacing. Otherwise, pacing often dragged several beats that undercut a sense of spontaneity and drama.
While the journeys in “The Cake” take all four characters to a better place, that destination promised more for each of them than mere sugar.
The production of Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake” continues through January 23 with performances in the Henry Clay Theatre, 604 South Third Street (third floor).
January 20, 21, 22; 7:30 p.m.
January 23 at 2:00 p.m.
For more information, visit www.pandoraprods.org.
Elizabeth Kramer is on Twitter @arts_bureau and on Facebook at Elizabeth Kramer – Arts Writer.