Zeitgeist's "Cake Walk": A Slice of Life?

The Cast of "Cakewalk"
(photo: Zeitgeist Stage Company)

Zeitgeist Stage Company's newest presentation is Cakewalk by Canadian playwright Colleen Curran. Written in 1984, it concerns five contestants in a cake-baking contest in a small Vermont town. The play unfolds in an inn that has seen better days. It's the Fourth of July, and, before the play's end there will be fireworks, as each of the entrants reveals her or his true nature.

One of them, Augusta Connors Hancock (Maureen Adduci), intends to enter the wedding cake she has designed and baked for her daughter Tiffany (Ashley Risteen) against her daughter's wishes. Another, Sister Vivien Leigh Cleary (Victoria George) from the local convent, dons mufti and hopes to send another nun to Italy (the grand prize) but finds her focus altered by the arrival of an absent-minded archeologist, Taylor Abbott (Matt Fagerberg). Yet another, Martha Britch (Aina Adler), owns a local cafe by the name of Heaven on Earth and enters a cake from her regular menu, which infuriates boyscout den mother Ruby Abel (Kelley Estes). As the saying goes, complications ensue. Who wins what won't be disclosed here, but suffice it to say that at the end of the play several threads in a very threadbare plot are neatly tied up.

The cast, including some Zeitgeist stalwarts, play their roles as presumably written, over the top and stereotypically. Fagerberg manages best, as his character is rife with opportunities to look and act befuddled, right down to a hair-don't that looks like an unmade bed. George and Adler have some of the better-written scenes and make what they can of them. Adduci and Risteen have both been seen in more fully developed roles in previous productions by this company. It falls to Estes to make her driven caricature into a believable zealot, but the task is thankless. Overall, the hyperventilated script filled with jokes that must have seemed dated over thirty years ago when it was first presented, is a disappointment. One could easily be caustic and refer to the play as half-baked, flavorless, or an overdone slice of life, but these would be cheap shots and would disrespect the author's efforts. Given the numerous plays she has created, this must be an atypical misfire in a host of perhaps more memorable works. That said, nothing is more dour than an intended comedy that, by and large, just isn't funny. As social satire, it kneads work.

The Direction and clever Set Design (replete with stains and scorch marks) are by David J. Miller, Zeitgeist's Artistic Director, with apt Lighting Design by Michael Clark Wonson, fine Sound Design by J. Jumbelic and amusing Costume Design by Jess Huang.

At one point near the end of the work, a character asks: “Cheaters in a cake-baking contest on the Fourth of July...can you believe it?” The answer, sadly, is no.

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