THE CAKE a thought provoking mixture at New Conservatory

Della (J.J. Van Name) in her sacred place- her bakery. Photo by Lois Tema.

THE CAKE: Comedy/Drama by Bekah Brunstetter, Directed by Tracy Ward. New Conservatory Theatre Center, Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave @ Market St, San Francisco, CA.  415-864-8972 or

October 25 – December 1, 2019

THE CAKE a thought provoking mixture at New Conservatory Rating: ★★★★☆

In June of 2018 The Supreme Court ruled for a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex male couple, but it left undecided whether a business owner’s religious beliefs or free speech rights can justify refusing some services to gay people. This incident/decision is the nidus for Bekah Brunstetter’s play The Cake  that is receiving a colorful, thoughtful and humorous staging by New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC). Brunstetter has bypassed the political implications to create a four character play emphasizing conflict on a personal level.

 Della (J.J. Van Name) is a first class baker living in a conservative Baptist community in North Carolina. She has been accepted as a contestant on the Great American Baking Show and Brunstetter has written her opening monologue defining her character as she informs us that there are strict criteria for baking a cake with the corollary that life should be lived the same way. The same way for her and her re-neck husband Tim (Dixon Phillips) is to follow strictly the tenets of the church.

 Into this semi-idyllic life enters Macy (Asia Jackson) and Jen (Jensen Power) a lesbian couple who have returned to Jen’s hometown to prepare for their wedding.  Jen’s deceased mother has left her a legacy to pay for a big traditional wedding. That of course would include one of Della’s famous cakes.

Progressive Macy is from a conflicted Brooklyn family and has been abused but struggled to get an education that has created a meaningful life. She is the first to meet Della in the bakery and we learn about her character that is ridged as Della’s but on the on the opposite end of the scale. She knows that sugar is an addicting drug and food should be gluten free.  To Della a gluten-free cake is not only tasteless but also an insult to the tongue.

When Della learns of the lesbian relationship she creates reasons why she cannot bake the cake only strongly suggesting it would be against the teaching of the Bible. Della describes Jen as “almost my godchild” but they are not related yet she loves her as if they were related

Brunstetter is a writer and producer of the hit TV show series “This is Us” and is a master at creating fully rounded characters. She has written dialog for Della having imaginary conversations with the host of her impending TV appearance that are both humorous and semi-tragic. He criticizes not only her baking but also her personality that devastates Della.

Late in the show we meet Tim and learn that he and Della have a conflicted relationship that is devoid of love and sex. When they do have sex it involves food that adds a touch of pornography.

J. Van Name is perfect as Della giving her character misplaced strength in the Bible and at the same time showing compassion. Her highs and lows ring true even though her faith in the Bible is resolute. Jensen Power creates the conflicted Jen with great stature and makes you feel her pain at the same time shows the strong dependent love for Macy. Asia Jackson’s Macy is a study in strength/love and control that becomes modified before the end of the show. Dixon Phillips has not been given a prominent role but has his moment on center stage late in the play. After all this is a woman’s play that centers on interpersonal relations devoid of political agitprop.

Tracy Ward’s superb direction is partially hindered by the scene changes that require the actors to move two set pieces constructed on rotary platforms that become the bakery and two bedrooms.

However the set is marvel of construction and the interior bakery set is a sparkling white with gorgeously decorated cakes and the background suggesting buildings that are perfectly constructed in the intimate Walker Theatre.  

Running time is 90 minutes without intermission and highly recommended.

CAST: Macy… Asia Jackson (pronouns: she/her); Tim … Dixon Phillips (pronouns: she/her); Jen … Jensen Power (pronouns: she/her); Della … J.J. Van Name (pronouns: she/her)

CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic design by Carlos Aceves (pronouns: he/him); Intimacy direction by Arturo Catricala (pronouns: he/him); Costume design by Joanne Martin (pronouns: she/her);Props design by Tom O’Brien (pronouns: he/him); Dialect coaching by Patricia Reynoso (pronouns: she/her); Stage management by Kaitlin Rosen (pronouns: she/her); Lighting design by Molly Stewart-Cohn (pronouns: she/her); Sound design by Kalon Thibodeaux (pronouns: he/him).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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