Cake and Dirt is a perfect recipe with one spice missing
by Drew Rowsome
Photos by Jeremie Warshafsky
Cake and Dirt opens in the aftermath of a birthday celebration that rivals Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Aprés the aftermath, the play moves back in time to show us the raucous event itself. The puzzle pieces are skilfully stitched together and there is much satisfaction to be gained from the clockwork precision of macguffins locking together to form a dramatic climax. Even the staging is a read herring: the at-first-annoying set changes actually prove to be an important clue. That the solution, and climax, is cribbed from the twist ending of a popular film of a few years ago (which will not be named so as not to spoil the fun) takes nothing away from the ingenious structure of Daniel MacIvor's play.
MacIvor has a lot to say about the tragedy of Toronto's urban planning and the selfish egos that have created that disaster. The structure, and central mystery, are unfortunately the only sugar he offers to get the medicine down. As he said in a previous interview, the characters are "very unsavoury people." So unsavoury that they become somewhat repellent and turn into chess pieces when the elaborate plotting trumps any emotional depth. That may well be the point, but there is little heart when everyone is heartless. They are however, all extremely articulate and witty, even when highly intoxicated, but this dark comedy has more dark than comedy.
Bethany Jillard is our charming if eerie narrator, and her comic monologue off the top sets a tone that the barbed banter between an aristocratic and brittle Maggie Huculak and blunt housekeeper Maria Vacratsis keep aflight. The first two scenes are a delicious comedy of manners with lacerating one-liners lacing a looming sense of menace. This deflates when the scene changes to a dialogue dance between Laara Sadiq and David Storch. We move from heightened naturalism to a discussion that feels forced to cram in the clues we are going to need.
Storch comes alive in the party scene and his boisterous drunk is a marvel. Storch has absolutely no fears when it comes to embodying the worst aspects of the alcohol-soused, and somehow that lets him charmis while we cringe. Patrick Kwok-Choon slides his verbal knives in with precision and provides an immoral moral centre as the sex object with ice in his veins. The entire cast handles a huge amount of rapid-fire overlapping dialogue while keeping their voices in perfect balance and almost perfect time. They just, alas, aren't able to make us care.
Director Amiel Gladstone (Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata) renders the foreboding mood and the complicated choral dialogue into crystal clear mayhem while milking all the comedy and horror to be found. If only there was more dramatic tension, and a few more of those patented MacIvor chilling laughs, within the rigorous intellect. Like a cake made of dirt, Cake and Dirt is scrumptious on the surface but not very appetizing.
Cake and Dirt continues until Wed, April 15 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com