The Process Matters: a response to CAKE, a journey of fluid and frosting
When the inimitable Caitlin George makes a play about falling in love with a cake, do not think it will not stir up some shit for you.
The best cake I have ever eaten was the one I won in a cake walk at Almond Elementary.
First my friend won, then I did. We still wonder if the nice older lady felt bad for one after the other got the prize.
We both went home. I ate one slice, maybe two, before it went bad. My mom didn’t like cake. My friend’s mom did, but I don’t think they finished her cake, either. Her mom was a baker, and they could make something better.
I didn’t envy my friend, not too much. In fact, I think I liked the cake precisely because it came so easy.
In the program for CAKE, produced by Shellscrape Theatre Company at the Chain from December 7-12 , playwright and performer Caitlin George writes: “I’ve never really understood what romantic relationships were: their power to turn us into different people, make us say and do ridiculous things. Why on earth do rational people need this mess in their lives? Who taught us that this is what a good life looks like? I’ve still no idea but play is my attempt to figure at figuring it out.” And attempt to figure it out—through the cake-loving character of Bonnie the Baker—she does.
A woman falls in love with a cheesecake. George takes a concept familiar to psychoanalysis: that all our romantic relationships rehearse the traumas our parents inflicted upon us. Through a passionate, sordid affair between Bonnie and her cheesecake, George shows us a bleak, brutal interpretation of how perverse this reenactment ritual can be. One gets the sense that if poor Bonnie can just get her cake-loving ritual right, she will finally be able to stop scrubbing her kitchen, even her hands and feet, with bleach. She will finally be able to rest.
While the script suffers from a bit of a lack of focus at times, or plays a particular bit or stays in a joke for just a beat too long, George’s fully engaged performance is enthralling, whether merely gesturing out her romance with Cake or dipping a sinful finger inside of cake’s middle when she (spoiler alert) does, at last, succumb to the temptation to devour her beloved.
I decided I needed to make a red velvet cake from scratch one summer, in the kitchen of my boyfriend’s house. I had barely made a Betty Crocker before, much less a recipe with cocoa powder, buttermilk, and baking soda. And oh, so much food coloring.
The cake was too dense. It began to sink in the middle. Probably something to do with how I beat the eggs. I also did not want to wait long enough for the cake to cool before I frosted it. The frosting got warm, the ingredients began to separate, and my boyfriend and I had to finish the entire thing. I felt too embarrassed to give anyone else a slice.
It was not a success. I did not want to admit that the process mattered, you see.
My favorite and perhaps the strangest part of the entire show is a monologue Bonnie gives about a type of creature called leopard slugs. With a projection of two leopard slugs mating on the entire back wall, Bonnie informs us: “Under the cover of darkness, they perform a bizarre balletic and ancient ritual. Twisting their slimy bodies together, the large slugs dangle upside down from a glittering rope of mucus slowly rotating.”
She goes on to inform us that, because leopard slugs can fertilize their own eggs, their mating is not strictly necessary. Bonnie argues that, because they do not need it, because they choose to do the work, leopard slugs do something special when they mate. Perhaps they even access a higher form of love than we mere mortals can. Leopard slugs are not driven to rehearse traumas, or find a place to put their sense of identity, or exercise carnal lust, or find inclusion in the big club of heteronormativity. They can exist and reproduce without others, so when they choose to, it’s a beautiful gesture indeed.
Leopard slugs, and CAKE as a whole, provides a reminder to all of us that the romance-as-happy-ending thing is an odd societal compulsion, perhaps even an obsolete one. Because the thing that held society and property ownership and peace among tribes together, the thing that might justify its existence for the sake of having a kid, cannot even do that any longer. Like the slug does not need other slugs to reproduce, the overpopulated planet does not need any given one of us to reproduce, either.
The species is certainly not depending upon Bonnie the Baker to reproduce. Even her thirty-four subscribers seem like they might be invented, her continual live stream all part of a fantasy she has generated to escape loneliness.
But is there even a better alternative than diving into the expected dyad of a romantic relationship? CAKE seems to suggest that even if we can reject the societal pressures to “settle down,” their effect will still haunt us. We will shout those tired lines from Sweet Home Alabama and Jerry McGuire, not because we think they’re true, but because there’s no way to escape the paltry modes we have to access the mysteries of another human being.