Vegan cakes take centre stage in Dinner With Friends at Studio 1398
Jenn MacLean-Angus is an actor who has appeared in plays, TV shows, and commercials. She also runs her own business making vegan and gluten-free cakes to order.
For the Vancouver resident, those two lines of work are converging with Dinner With Friends, a Dirty Manhattan Equity Co-op production that opens this week at Studio 1398. In a backstage interview during a technical rehearsal at the Granville Island theatre, MacLean-Angus described how she feels about coproducing and starring in a play for which she’s making all the cakes and other food that will appear on stage.
“It feels like the most natural thing in the world, because it’s all creativity,” MacLean-Angus told the Georgia Straight, while applying makeup in front of a mirror. “They’re not separate. It’s nice to bring creative passions together.”
After baking cakes for several years, MacLean-Angus started up Memento Cakes in April. Through her website, she receives orders for custom cakes and cupcakes in flavours such as chocolate and lemon-lavender. Demand is seasonal, but on a busy weekend she can make as many as five cakes for prices ranging from $30 to hundreds of dollars or more.
Aside from being free of animal ingredients and gluten, MacLean-Angus says her cakes are “refined/slavery sugar-free”. That means she avoids purchasing sugar that may have come from plantations that exploit workers.
“I try to find sugar that’s fair trade, that’s organic, that’s on the healthier side—not healthier just for your own body, but healthier for other people,” she said. “If I’m buying slave sugar, I’m not doing anything good for the world.”
When it comes to orders, MacLean-Angus likes to ask her customers about their interests. She wants to know their favourite colours and music, and whether they’re sports fans. This inspires how she approaches designing their cakes.
“I want my cakes to taste like an experience,” she said.
MacLean-Angus’s cakes feature prominently in the first scene and second act of Dinner With Friends. In the script by American playwright Donald Margulies—who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the play—a lemon almond polenta cake is eaten and discussed on stage in the opening minutes. Another cake appears on stage during a lunch later on.
MacLean-Angus plays Karen, who is married to Gabe. The play begins with the two food writers having returned to Connecticut from a “culinary vacation” in Italy. According to MacLean-Angus, Dinner With Friends centres on two couples but is really about what happens after one of those relationships falls apart.
“What I love about this play is that no one is exempt from experiencing a part of the story—no one,” she said. “Anyone can watch this play and relate to some aspect of it. I think someone who has really lived a rich life, especially people who are a bit older, will likely be able to relate to every single character. People who are younger will be able to say, ‘Oh my God, now I see why my parents did X, Y, Z.’ Or, ‘Oh, now I have a greater understanding of what maybe that means in my life that I thought I knew.’ Because you’re hearing all sides of the story, and you’re seeing it all presented to you.”
Dinner With Friends is directed by Jennifer Clement and produced by Loretta Walsh. In addition to MacLean-Angus, the production stars Walsh, Ben Ratner, and Noel Johansen. The set design is by Peter Wilds.
According to MacLean-Angus, it’s impossible to experience this “moving” play without feeling something. Much like her cakes.