The Cake is at the Alliance for the Arts from March 17 to 26

The Cake is at the Alliance for the Arts from March 17 to 26

Beka Brunstetter was inspired for “The Cake” by a 2012 court case that originated in Lakewood, Colorado, in which Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips refused to bake a personalized wedding cake for a same-sex couple because he “expressed messages that contradicted his religious beliefs”. beliefs.” Brunstetter’s play does not recreate or parody the facts or the people involved in this case. Rather, Brunstetter uses this premise to delineate the price that is paid on both sides when love is sacrificed on the altar of religious principle.

At the center of the story is a kind baker from North Carolina named Della and her best friend’s daughter, Jen, who lives in New York.

As the play opens, Della’s biggest problem is preparing to take part in The Big American Bake-Off, a reality TV show on the Food Network. But then Jen arrives at her shop to ask her honorary aunt to bake a cake for her fall wedding. The two are extremely close. In fact, since her mother’s untimely death five years ago, Jen considers Del her surrogate. For her part, Del sees Jen as the daughter she never had.

But more than the distance between Brooklyn and Winston-Salem separates these two, as we quickly learn when Jen tells Del she’s getting married… to another woman. This revelation forces Del to backtrack on his offer to bake Jen’s wedding cake in an ominous scene full of awkwardness and heartbreak – for both women.

The Bible condemns same-sex relationships, and in Del’s way of thinking, baking Jen’s wedding cake would be condoning her immorality.

“Della is a person rooted in her faith and belief system, and that’s how she’s lived her whole life,” observes Dianne Fussaro, who plays Della. “She truly believes that’s the way life should be. Her whole community, everything around her tells her that’s the truth.

In fact, for Del, the guiding principles of Christianity are like a recipe. They are to be followed to the letter, without question or ambiguity, for fear of ruining the dough.

Jen’s fiancée is a gorgeous African-American woman named Maci, brilliantly played by Chantel Rhodes. Besides being gay, black, and female, Maci is agnostic, and she challenges Del — and everyone like her — to base their entire belief system on a book thousands of years old. For Maci, this is pure intellectual arrogance and it is high time it was replaced by the tolerance born of Socratic humility.

“She says that in one of her lines,” Rhodes amplifies. “Shouldn’t we be humble when we talk about the God of the universe, when we talk about the Creator or the Almighty or any force that simply indicates the difference between people? We should have a humble approach instead of thinking that this is how things should be, this is how things have always been and this is how things are going to go forward.

From this perspective, Maci represents Millennials and, to an even greater extent, Gen Z. Nearly half are non-white; a fifth identify as LGBTQ; and more than a third describe themselves as secular – not affiliated with any religious tradition. While they may understand, they are increasingly questioning the religious beliefs of older white Christians, the politicians they elect, and the social priorities they legislate in laws like the Don’t Say Bill. gay” from Florida.

Despite their differences, Del, Maci and Jen struggle to find common ground:

“A lot of times people are in a position where they have to choose or they feel conflicted inside and I think [The Cake] gives us the opportunity to reassess what we believe in and it gives us the opportunity to finally make love and put love at the forefront of our minds,” remarks Chantel Rhodes.

Dianne Fussaro agrees: “It’s really become apparent around the world that we really live within our tribes and don’t really leave our five-block radius when it comes to our beliefs. But suddenly there’s someone right next to us who’s completely different and so, yeah, that’s what the piece is trying to say is that why can’t we get along and why can’t we learn tolerance for each other and our differences because we’re not all cookie-cutter. We are not all exactly the same.

But no matter how hard you try, sometimes it just isn’t possible to find common ground with someone who holds uncompromising and inflexible religious, political, or social views. This is precisely what Jen discovers, and it puts her in the unenviable position of having to choose between people she has known and loved for so much of her life and the woman she now considers family. .

Madelaine Weymouth stars as Jen with an open, raw, heart-on-her-sleeve vulnerability that’s guaranteed to reduce even the most hardened audience member to a puddle of tears — not once, but a handful of times.

“Jen takes a lot of emotional hits on this show,” Weymouth says. “She tries to serve as a mediator or diplomat of points of view, and as an intermediary between Della, her and Maci, she tries to mediate on both sides. The reward she gets for doing this for a significant portion of the play is rejection.

But although she can’t bring herself to accept Jen’s sexual orientation or choice of life partner, she suffers from this incapacity.

“[S]he says she has a brain and heart war,” Fussaro points out. “She loves this girl like her child and wants to be there for her but, uh, all the peer pressure and the pressure from her church and her husband and everything she’s been taught just keeps stopping her. So she’s like a car engine that can’t really start, but she keeps trying to start it.

Ultimately, Jen discovers that there’s a worse kind of rejection than Della – and that’s rejecting who she really is.

“In the end, she has to make a choice because she can’t take care of someone else,” concedes Weymouth. “She ultimately has to love herself for who she is and if people can’t do that, she comes to understand that they don’t care about her and aren’t good for her in her life. Which is a tough decision to make.

And it’s a tough role to play because of the emotional toll the game demands.

“[But] if Stephanie Davis asks if you want to be in something, the answer is yes,” adds Weymouth with a playful laugh. “Stephanie is not lacking. She’s really good at choosing scripts that make us think. It does what a good vegetarian restaurant does. It gives you something that is good for you but also benefits you. I think that’s what The Cake does. It tackles incredibly difficult current affairs, but it doesn’t do it in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching an after-school special. Every person on stage feels real and like they know them, and it’s a joy to play in such a fully developed role.

The cake performs at the Alliance for the Arts this weekend and next. Goes here for game dates, times and ticket information.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida, visit Tom Hall’s website: SWFL Art in the News.
This Spotlight on the Arts feature is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.