In a theatre/entertainment world ruled by identity politics, The Cake seems odd. The soon-to-premier musical about a conservative baker asked to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is not the fare you expect to find Off-Broadway. What’s surprising is that it’s written by a Hollywood leftist who wanted to write the protagonist of her play fairly and empathetically.
Broadway.com gives the musical’s synopsis:
All is going well for Della. Her North Carolina bakery is legendary and she’s just been cast on her favorite television baking competition. But then, her late-best-friend’s daughter comes home from New York City to ask her to make a cake for her upcoming wedding. When Della learns that Jen’s about to marry a woman, she is forced to re-examine her deeply held beliefs, as questions of morals, judgment and family swirl around them all.
Opening on March 5, The Cake is written by Bekah Brunstetter, a writer and producer on the hit TV show “This Is Us.” Brunstetter grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in a traditional, conservative Southern family. Because of her upbringing, she feels that the protagonist of her new musical is someone she understands. In an interview with Theatre Mania, she confesses that The Cake “is my attempt to understand myself and articulate things that had been confusing and frustrating me.”
She also opened up about the pushback she has received over the musical. Explaining not only the reactions she’s received but also her justification for writing it:
Here and there, I’ve absolutely gotten some understandably angry and frustrated responses to the play. “Why does this exist?” “Now is not the time to show empathy for these people.” I can’t discount that point of view. Hopefully, it’s clear why I’m doing this. I’m just entering it as a person with questions and a heart, and I think that that comes across. I had to take that risk, and in taking that risk, I’m exposing myself to difficult conversations.
Brunstetter portrayed Della, the conservative baker in The Cake, in a sympathetic manner as an attempt to get audiences to engage in dialogue about beliefs that are no longer approved by society. Acknowledging that the recent court cases involving Christian bakers who refused to bake a cake for same-sex weddings influenced her writing process, she told Theatre Mania. “The challenge is translating my empathy for [Della] to an audience, and also finding that fine line of having an audience empathize with her without condoning,” she said.
While I appreciate Bekah Brunstetter’s desire to be truthful and empathetic toward the beliefs of Della, I can’t help but raise my eyebrows at her audacity. She is not a conservative Christian, meaning, according to the rules of identity politics, she has no business speaking for conservative Christian bakers who have been asked to violate their consciences. She has no business explaining the experiences of those outside of her identity groups. For my sake, I’m fine with writers stepping into the voices of those they disagree with or don’t identify with. But, then again, I don’t play by the rules of identity politics.