Sweet when it should be savory

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

There are a couple of heart wrenching scenes in Bekah Brunstetter's play The Cake.

One has a daughter returning to her home town down south. She lives in Brooklyn now. A lot has changed. She's trying to reconcile the world she grew up in with the world she lives in now. You see her mom was deeply religious and the daughter Jen is about to marry another woman. Not exactly what her mother had in mind. She seeks out her mother's best friend, Della, to ask -- basically -- what her mother would think of her life. She wants nothing more than to feel her dead mother's blessing and approval for her love.

Della tells her "I think it would break her heart."

It's devastating.

Then there's a complex scene where a husband is confronted by his wife for the lack of passion and intimacy in their marriage. The husband says,

"When the doctor told me that I was not, ah. Able to. To give you. Us. A child. That was hard. It’s hard for a man.
For a man, it’s hard.
When he’s not, ah.
... -- doin what a man should be doin. And I guess it made the, ah, the urge. Go away."

Again, a beautifully considered moment.

Here's the problem, The Cake isn't really about these two scenes. The Cake is about a cake and it's baker - Della, the dead mother’s best friend. Della runs Della's Sweets and in addition to breaking Jen's heart about her mom, Della also refuses, sort of, to bake Jen's wedding cake because she doesn't believe it's what god intended. Sounds familiar right? We've got Supreme Court cases about just this issue.

In one sense, The Cake is exactly the kind of play we need in America right now, a drama that tries to make sense and give voice to the deep and profound political divisions we see in daily headlines.

But the challenge is The Cake isn't really that play.

While it's plot revolves around a baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, as a play it never really goes there. Della’s beliefs are obstacles but not in a profound reveal the other side of the argument kind of way. More in the - it's nice to have an antagonist and someone to poke fun at from an enlightened liberal perspective sort of way. So Della is more of a comic foil than the dramatic heart of the story.

Disagreements that should be catastrophic end up oddly resolved. Moments that should have profound lasting consequences don't.

To use the irresistible baking metaphor -- everything's a bit too sweet when it really wants to be savory.

Here's what's really strange - it sort of works. The Cake isn't the play it sets out to be and it avoids the really difficult issues it professes to address but the characters are charming, the actors are endearing, and there's enough of a hint of a great play to make The Cake a good play.

The Cake plays at the Echo Theater Company in Atwater Village through August 6.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Debra Jo Rupp in The Cake at the Echo Theater Company (Darrett Sanders)