Tired of bigots? I am. They are everywhere. I’ve got bigots to the left of me, bigots to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle with The Cake. The New Mexico premiere of the comedy The Cake at the Aux Dog Theater Nob Hill is a play that reminds us that bigotry is not the sole domain of one particular group, but rather starts every time you use the words “those people” to describe someone else. In our highly charged environment of tribal partisanship, zero-tolerance condemnations and gun-wielding, self-proclaimed constitutional scholars, is there a better definition to be reminded of?
Centered around a young woman’s return to her hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. for her same-sex wedding, The Cake is inspired by the incident that led to the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It was in Colorado back in 2012 that a baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple’s ceremony, claiming that he had the First Amendment right to refuse such baking because of his religious faith. Playwright Bekah Brunstetter personalizes the incident, sets it in her own hometown of Winston-Salem and beautifully crafts characters that know and love each other in ways that challenge the beliefs they were raised on.
This might sound heavy-handed, but this is not a dry cake; it is a comedy with many funny moments. There are jokes, gags and some philosophy on cake-baking properly measured and sifted in. The voice of God is an old plot vehicle, but when driven by an omniscient baking contest judge with a British accent, it’s bound to raise a smile. Add to that the fact that the actors ate real cake throughout the performance (a task some actors tell me is more problematic then you would think) then, at least at the sold-out performance I attended, provided cake to the audience in the lobby at the end of the play, and you’ve got a show that won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.
The Cake is a break from the big picture. It is a small story about four people trying to sort out what they believe, from what they think they should believe. Never an easy task, one character pauses to consider, “It’s hard to condemn someone when they are real to you.” Think on that while you reach for the milk.
Having four actors, four perspectives and a bunch of statements that start with “I am” sent spinning around on one stage set is an old recipe for fine plays. The Cake is a modern take on modern issues that are routed in timeless dilemmas. Sometimes it’s best not to linger over their origin and just take a bite.