Metro Weekly

‘The Cake’ Review: Just Desserts

Nicole Halmos' assured performance as a conflicted conservative propels Prologue Theatre's multi-layered 'The Cake.'

The Cake -- Photo: DJ Corey Photography
The Cake — Photo: DJ Corey

Good people on both sides of the culture wars are portrayed with compassion in Bekah Brunstetter’s heartfelt The Cake (★★★☆☆). Of course, “good” is highly subjective in this case, where the playwright shows more grace to the characters, deadlocked in their opposing views, than they might be inclined to grant one another.

Those in the audience, too, likely will find themselves easily aligning with, or staunchly opposed to, lesbian brides Jen (Tara Forseth) and Macy (Sabrina Lynne Sawyer), or with bake shop owner Della (Nicole Halmos), who politely but firmly refuses to bake a cake for their wedding, because she doesn’t support same-sex marriage.

The rejection, no matter how humanely delivered, stings — because of the bigotry, and because Jen considers Della, who was best friend to Jen’s late mother, to be like family.

Concise in its storytelling and running time, the play, produced by Prologue Theatre in partnership with NextStop Theatre, allows space for everyone involved to say their piece, and confront some form of rebuttal.

Even Della’s opinionated, Trump-voting hubby, Tim (Sam Lunay), is asked to add his two cents, plus tax, and this dispute doesn’t really involve him. Though the matter does prompt Della to examine the substance of her seemingly happy union, if not her religious beliefs.

The Emmy-nominated This Is Us writer-producer Brunstetter appears willing to pry under Della’s skin from every other angle, but doesn’t dissect her conservative Christian ideology that fiercely.

Rather, The Cake leaves us to take the woman at her word that her religious convictions run truer and deeper than the memorized Bible verses she keeps at the ready. The script finds depth elsewhere in Della, as does Nicole Halmos, a performer equally willing to pry under the happy baker’s sweet, Southern Christian lady persona to bare her doubt, caring, and stubbornness.

The Cake -- Photo: DJ Corey Photography
The Cake — Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Halmos bares her body, too, as Della expresses her desire for Tim, and her wish to be desired. She and Lunay evoke the facets of a marriage between partners who still love and value each other after decades together.

Their MAGA-endorsed “traditional” values are juxtaposed with the utterly modern sensibilities of Brooklyn-dwelling lesbians Jen and Macy. Forseth, affected as buoyantly hopeful Jen, and Sawyer, solid but so serious as Macy, aren’t as convincing a couple, but the cause is compelling. And the point is that love is love is love.

Director Aria Velz and scenic designer Jason Tamborini cleverly present both couples on equal visual planes, tucking their respective bedrooms behind two side-by-side walls of the very inviting Della’s Sweets bake shop.

The walls slide away to reveal Della and Tim, or Macy and Jen, in bed, in their pajamas or less, sharing intimate moments that register as unique to them and universal to the experience of being married.

But these couples aren’t the same, and they’re not treated the same by various religions and laws — especially by good people like Della and Tim, who, ultimately, benefit greatly from the exceedingly sympathetic portrayal and the layered turn from Halmos.

She’s grabbing the laughs mostly by herself, with the occasional assistance of the uncredited, unseen performer drolly voicing the announcer of a Great British Baking Show-inspired reality TV competition Della dreams of appearing on someday.

Halmos whips Della’s fantasy segments about appearing on the show into a funny thread of ever-more anxious attempts to impress the unseen judges with her good, old-fashioned baked goods.

She’s not trying to be too fancy, but just wants to deliver simple, well-executed bakes. The Cake, aiming similarly for straightforward, unfussy debate, executes well, but leans too heavily on sweetness to soothe the bitter taste of its star baker’s bigotry.

The Cake runs through Feb. 26 in the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab Theatre II, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets are $25 to $35. Call 703-382-8012, or visit www.prologuetheatre.org.

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