Review: Cake and Dirt (Tarragon Theatre)

The cast of Cake and Dirt
World Premier of Daniel MacIvor’s latest work takes the stage at Tarragon in Toronto

Daniel MacIvor finishes his time as Playwright-in-Residence at Tarragon Theatre with the play Cake and Dirt, which had its world premier last night.

Given the description on the Tarragon Theatre website calling the piece “A darkly comic look at life in Toronto through a fractured family of privilege.” I was expecting laughs, dark uncomfortable laughs, but laughs nonetheless. Instead, while there were funny moments, mostly what was coming from the stage felt more like anger than humour to me.

The play opens the morning after a champagne fueled 50th birthday party for Jeff (David Storch), a corporate lawyer having a really big mid-life crisis. He’s sleeping with the hostess, his ex-wife Bryn (Maggie Huculak). His wife Naline (Laara Sadiq) isn’t happy about the fading passion in their marriage.

Jeff and Bryn’s 25 year old daughter Riley (Bethany Jillard) introduces us to the players in an opening monologue. She tells us a bit about the cake; the dirt comes later.

It’s an interesting way to tell a story; start in the middle and go backwards to the beginning. I liked it. It was nice to have an overview of what had happened before getting to the nuts and bolts of the party.

The main part of the play takes place in the kitchen of Bryn’s condo after the dinner party. Nina (Maria Vacratsis), the housekeeper, is trying to clear up around the activity and Bryn’s neighbour Jason (Patrick Kwok-Choon), a city councillor known as Councillor Flip Flop, show up and are drawn into the action.

Kimberly Purtell’s sets were effective and minimalist. The park was a tree in a pot. The condo kitchen was an island counter with some stools. Jeff and Naline’s living room was an arm chair, an ottoman, and a bookcase. Everything was on wheels and the actors easily rolled the pieces on or off the stage between scenes. It all worked so well.

Director Amiel Gladstone has impressively managed to produce a scene where people talk over each other, interrupt each other, and go off on tangents, in a way that we can still hear what people are saying. It never quite becomes a cacophony of drunken babble.

These are privileged Torontonians at their very worst. The only character who seems to be decent at all is Nina, but she’s the housekeeper and she wasn’t drinking. It felt as if MacIvor really dislikes his characters – I’d even say it felt like he hated them.

Huculak’s accent is pitch perfect, as is her offhand condescension. Storch manages to be falling down drunk without being a clown. Vacratsis was perfect as the voice of reason in a room full of drunks.

The characters all seem stylized and one dimensional. I can’t help coming back to the fact that other than Nina, all the characters are hateful.

The thing I took home was MacIvor’s anger. It felt as if he was thumbing his nose at a part of the city as he was on his way out the door. And as if he was hitting the audience on the head with it.

Cake and Dirt seemed like a journeyman effort, not the work I expected from a master like MacIvor.


  • Cake and Dirt is playing at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until April 12
  • Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm and matinees at 2.30 on Saturday and Sunday
  • Ticket prices range from $27.00 to $60.00
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-531-1827, and in person at the box office

Picture of David Storch, Maggie Huculak, Laara Sadiq, Patrick Kwok-Choon, Maria Vacratsis, Bethany Jillard by Jeremie Warshafsk