Returning to the stage11/3/2021
It’s a piece of cake.
Iowa Stage Theatre Company has developed a wonderful recipe for performance success over the years. With a dash of classics, some flavoring with occasional musicals, and bold spicing with modern classics and new works, this company has found its niche in central Iowa’s theatrical producing ranks.
The pandemic created a topsy-turvy situation for everyone, and Iowa Stage was not immune from the impact of having to shutter live performances. They adapted, developing some enticing and well-executed virtual performance opportunities for their fans. Production value was high, and they connected with a national network of similarly adept companies presenting some of the best works that would adapt well to this new medium. Still, Iowa Stage deeply longed for a return to the bare boards and a live audience.
The wait is over, the oven is warming up, and a show that was ready to head into tech week but was so rudely halted due to COVID is ready to bake. “The Cake” opens Nov. 12, and the friendly confines of the Stoner Theater in Iowa’s grand Civic Center is the venue. Director Jennifer Nostrala recalls that gut-wrenching day early in 2020 when they had to cancel the show.
“We were getting close to tech week for the show when the pandemic was starting. These actors were in such a great place with the show that I was looking forward to sharing it with an audience. And the day we canceled it was hard.”
Artistic Director Matt McIver, Nostrala and other key members of the production team met to discuss options. Mounting “The Cake” as a virtual performance was quickly dismissed.
Nostrala knew in her creative core that “…the humanity of this show is better experienced as a community rather than alone watching a screen.”
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That decision proved to be a good one. Bekah Brunstetter’s dramatic comedy brings cultural clashing down to a very personal, very human level. Della is a Southern conservative who makes cakes, not decisions. She leaves that to her husband. When Jen, the girl Della raised like a daughter, returns home, Della is asked to bake the cake for her wedding. Della did not expect Jen’s betrothed to be another woman. Della must make her own decision, and the cake becomes the nucleus of an emotional bomb.
Offering a few more glimpses into a script that beckons to be experienced, Nostrala continues: “Della learns there are two brides, and she backs out of making the cake. Jen is crushed, and we witness the impact of the rejection. We then see Della’s struggle with trying to come to terms with how “following the rules” impacts her. She is not triumphant; she, too, is devastated. And Della begins to question her understanding of the world. These human interactions — these moments of pain and joy — are what the play is about.”
“The Cake” is a masterful, artistic exploration into the complexities of society’s principles. Iowa Stage takes their time to find scripts that have been hailed for their content, and Brunstetter’s play is a gem. Delivered with dashes of wit, humor and chilling drama, celebrate the return to live theatre with this thought-provoking masterpiece, knowing that it is in the very capable production hands of one of Iowa’s most consistent theatre companies when it comes to production values. ♦
John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.