On a recent Sunday afternoon, some fortunate Topanga residents and others were treated to a delicious staged reading of The Cake. A timely work of fiction, set in modern-day North Carolina, it was written in 2015, by American playwright Bekah Brunstetter (b. 1982).
The Cake was selected by the Topanga Actors Company (TAC) and directed by co-founder Paula LaBrot. Touching and hilarious, this work was conveniently staged in Topanga’s Public Library. Open to all, it was a packed house.
Set against a white backdrop on a simple stage, four skilled actors worked their way through the dialog, script in hand, yet made it easy for the audience to imagine the scenery, props, wardrobe, and location. With something for everyone, this work incorporates themes of homophobia, ageism, and political correctness. Just for fun, there’s also a bit of north vs. south, urban vs. rural, elitism vs. middle class values, and even vegan vs. paleo.
The primary character, Della, is a beleaguered and barren southern matriarch, played exquisitely by Jeanette Vigne, who I couldn’t help but feel had somehow channeled Paula Deen, American TV personality and cooking show host.
Della, the consummate baker, extols the virtues of “real” ingredients, like sugar and eggs, and of following a recipe religiously from scratch. She believes that if she could just bake a cake for everyone in the world, everything would be fine. In other words, she’s in denial about the world around her and about her own marriage, but you soon realize that her heart is in the right place.
Della’s husband, Tim, played by a versatile and convincing Micah Dyer, is a plumber, specializing in septic pumping. He is appalled by the idea of “smell-good plumbers” and talks about the slippery slope of trying new things. In other words, he’s a common-sense traditionalist who makes no excuses to anyone.
Dyer also plays the part of George, the television host of The Great American Baking Show, a fantasy TV show on which Della, is a contestant. Throughout the play Dyer switches between playing the loving (if distant) husband, Tim, and the nightmarish and sadistic bake-off host, George, who ridicules Della for her sins of being judgmental, hypocritical, and cruel.
The play centers on the relationship of Della and Jennifer (played by Samantha Johnson), who is back in town. She has returned to her hometown to get married. And for this special occasion she wants to celebrate with a scrumptious, homemade cake prepared by her deceased mother’s dear friend, Della. The only problem for this small southern town’s baker-in-chief is that Jennifer’s fiancé is smart, assertive, sophisticated, outspoken, and a woman.
Jennifer now lives in New York and prefers to be called Jen, but she still loves a good craft store and grieves for her mother. As Jen, Johnson does a beautiful job relating the shame she feels—after all, her mother would never have approved of a lesbian relationship—and her steadfast love for the ultra-strident and lovingly supportive Macy, played mercilessly by Ella Boyajian.
Pulled straight from the headlines, this story revolves around the moral dilemma Della faces when asked if she will bake a cake for the two brides. Vigne is laugh-out-loud funny with her physical contortions and honest confusion about what’s right and wrong. The packed audience of about 60, howled and twisted in torment as each player spoke their truth and worked through their anguish, disappointment, joy, grief, and finally, surrender.
The Cake is a rich, layered take on the times in which we live and about how we can navigate through these rough waters with a bit of compassion, a little honesty, and a lot of love.
It was such a pleasure to enjoy acting of this caliber in the Canyon. Add TAC’s next performance to your calendar. Get there early to get a seat. You won’t be disappointed!n
Topanga Actors Company is a non-profit founded by locals Paula LaBrot and Judith Hendra. The Group’s next performance will be a Ten-Minute Play Festival.
By Julie Howell Green