The Cake: A Lesson on Empathy and Bigotry in the South

The Cake is a play written by Bekah Brunstetter in 2017, following the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Cake Shop. The shop’s owner, a Christian, declined to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple citing his religious beliefs. The play follows a similar premise. In it, Bekah introduces the audience to Della, a southern, Christian woman who owns a bakery in a small town. Della’s best friend passed away and, as a result, Della has a mother-like relationship with her best friend’s daughter, Jen. Jen approaches Della with fantastic news! Jen is engaged and wants Della to bake her wedding cake. Honored by Jen’s request, Della is thrilled to bake Jen’s cake. That is, until Della realizes that Jen is marrying a woman.

It would be simple for Bekah to cast Della off as a bigot and position her as the antagonist of the show. But rather than do that, Bekah attempts to explore Della’s humanity. What systems lead to Della’s beliefs? Is Della a good person?

We learn that Della’s bigotry stems from various systems. Her beliefs stem from her insecurities. As Della confronts her bigotry, she has to reckon with her sexuality and potential bisexuality. Della has to resist her husband who condemns homosexuality, and she confronts the patriarchy that gives her husband dominion over her personal beliefs. Along the way, her prejudice results in her disqualification from a baking show. Her life-long dream. Despite this disappointment, she can reflect on her beliefs instead of growing angry. And while Della never attends the wedding, she secretly bakes a cake and drops it off at Jen’s wedding against her husband’s will.

As we go through the story, we get a glimpse into critical love. The developments show us Della’s redeeming qualities. They show us that Della deeply loves Jen. But, Bekah never lets Della off the hook. There are real consequences to Della’s bigotry, yet Bekah still gives Della the room for redemption. Bekah’s treatment of Della gives us insight into how we can find redemption in The New South.

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