While you might be familiar with the story of "The Cake" — baker won't make a wedding cake for a gay couple — you don't know all the ingredients that go into this nuanced production at Bakersfield Community Theatre.
"I think the show does a great job of presenting many issues surrounding the making of 'the cake," director Kristina Saldaña wrote in an email. "People might think it’s based off any one incident you may have seen in the news, but the main issues of the show go further than that. It shows all sides of the issues, the people, and the circumstances."
The issue about public access to businesses without discrimination has come up locally as well as across the nation. In 2017, Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller refused to make a wedding cake for Bakersfield couple Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio, saying it went against her Christian beliefs on same-sex marriage. The couple filed a civil rights complaint but lost in Kern County Superior Court. Similar cases took place within the last few years in Oregon and Colorado, with the latter being heard by the Supreme Court.
"The Cake" is set in North Carolina, where event planner Jen (Maya Blackstone) returns home to plan her wedding to Macy (Dakota Polk), which includes a cake designed by her deceased mother's best friend, Della (Julie Gaines). Realizing Jen is marrying another woman, Della must re-examine her strong beliefs.
Gaines said she wanted to make sure her baker came across as "three-dimensional and not just words on a page."
"I think it’s important that she is vulnerable enough to show her warts and all to the audience," she wrote in an email. "She has very strong opinions, but what I find important is that, ultimately, she allows the love she feels for her 'family' to lead her to new possibilities for her belief system. ... Not everything is solved through the show, but you see growth and a willingness to continue listening."
Della is not only torn about helping her daughter's friend; she's also struggling to connect with husband Tim (Steve Evans) about her struggles at work and theirs as a couple.
Gaines said her character is going through similar situations she sees in families around her, especially in the theater community.
She wrote, "Having a child of my own who is gender fluid, I feel that I have a unique insight into the character; I don’t agree with all of Della’s choices, but I’m trying to find the humanity and love she possesses that ultimately has her grow through the course of the play.
"It has been a good challenge for me — she needs to be a real person and not a representation of a point of view. I hope I succeed in sharing all of that with the audience."
Saldaña said the show's moments of levity help to humanize these characters.
"It’s easy to declare a protagonist and antagonist right off the bat and pick sides but the show and the actors do a great job of being multidimensional," Saldaña wrote. "You’re not always going to agree with the same characters on the same points but you understand they are coming from places of honesty, pain, and love, all of which are the deeply buried roots of humor."
With much of the show taking place in the bakery or in sequences where Della imagines herself on “The Great American Baking Show,” there are plenty of baked goods on stage. Saldaña, who is a baker, made the cakes that Gaines frosts or uses as props on stage, and she will continue to replenish them during the show's run. Justin Salinas, owner of Cake It With Justin, also made four dummy cakes and dozens of cookies used as set decor.
Gaines, who had to prepare an apple pie from scratch on stage for each performance of BCT's "Apples in Winter" in November, said cake decorating was much easier.
"I’ve now focused on pies and cakes; I learned how to decorate a cake quickly while talking at the same time," Gaines wrote. "I don’t know what could be next — cookies? I will don’t think I would ever turn down a well-written role that has to do with baking — I love to learn new things."