Let Them Eat Cake
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 9, 2010
I was disappointed by Let Them Eat Cake, the new performance work by Holly Hughes and others at Dixon Place. I've not seen any of Hughes's work before, and so I guess I was hoping to discover more about why she is the highly regarded and influential artist that she certainly is. But Cake feels thrown together and (dare I say?) only half-baked at this point.
It's billed as "a gay marriage in one act with confections." It takes place at the wedding of Juan and Steven, which for reasons that are never entirely clear is being held at Dixon Place. Juan and Steven never appear, however; in a plot twist that I don't think it's bad for me to reveal, they prove to be indisposed and so a substitute wedding is hastily pulled together. One of the parties to this on-the-fly wedding is Logan, a bright woman whom we meet right at the beginning of the show. A wedding party (best man and maid of honor and some impromptu relatives) are recruited from the cast and the audience. When Logan remembers she has no one to marry, the other bride is sought from the audience as well. And then a very contemporary service follows, featuring tributes to the states that have legalized same-sex marriage (which is a very small number of states!) and some off-kilter humorous vows, led by Steven's Aunt Tina, an effervescent lady from Greece.
Before, during, and after the ceremony are discussions about gay marriage, pro and con (but mostly pro). Engagement from the audience is sought but, at least at the performance I attended, only sparsely contributed. (The folks who gamely volunteered to be in the wedding seemed to enjoy themselves, and as promised, they were not made to do anything difficult or embarrassing.)
Hughes and her collaborators are after making a happening here; but the ingredients don't quite gel and I just didn't feel all that much happen. One problem is that the debate feels very manufactured and unspontaneous, as characters (supposedly guests at Juan and Steven's wedding) spout points of view that feel generic rather than personal. Another problem—the most serious one, for me—is that while Hughes and Co. seem to be earnestly celebrating the importance of gay marriage, what actually happens in the show makes a bit of a mockery of it: what's a marriage, after all, when one of the brides has just been drafted two minutes before the ceremony? Where's the idea of love, of commitment, of partnership?
The show has its high points, notably Carmelita Tropicana's monologue about the history of discrimination about same-sex partners that gives the whole gay marriage movement its context and its teeth. And Moe Angelos is very accomplished and very funny as Aunt Tina. But I never felt engaged by Hughes, who plays narrator/wedding planner, mostly from the sidelines of the piece. And the fact that she welcomed, more or less in this character, only a select few audience members before the show reinforced a feeling of non-inclusiveness that I was very conscious of—and very surprised by, in Dixon Place of all venues!—throughout Let Them Eat Cake.