la Mort au Chocolat
"...you know-a deep, dark chocolate is actually the perfect flavor to hide the bitter taste of poison….. so I’m told.”
"I don't understand why we have to use a fake cake-it would be easier to make a real one than this plaster thing." Nathan complained, his hands covered with the white crusty mess.
"Have you ever made a real cake Nathan?" asked Jenna. "Not sure I'd wanna taste THAT!"
"I could make a cake- you buy box, follow instructions. Pretty sure you use a mixer and not your hands like this." Nathan defended.
"Dude- you can't even heat up frozen pizza, remember?" Crosby added.
" How did I know the oven was broken?" Nathan asked. " Mrs. H-Why can't we use a real cake though?"
Mrs. Harper replied, " Nathan- I told you, when using food on stage it's just a better plan to use a prop. You are better able to manage it, you know the weight of it and how it handles. And there's no chance someone eats it backstage. And that's not plaster-its a foam molding compound and where are your gloves??"
"The gloves are hard to use-their too floppy. But the one piece that's on the plate-its real, right? Cause it gets tasted by the actor?" Jenna added.
Mrs. Harper continued, " Yes-but they aren't to really taste it. Eating onstage messes with your voice- and you could choke. You hearing me Crosby?"
Crosby , in the theatre seats with Gracie, gave an ok sign with his free hand as he took a drink from his water bottle. Gracie got up and crossed to the group making props with a script in hand and said, " Mrs. Harper-this is the lamest script you've ever had us do....so corny!"
Others chimed in- It really is, why are we doing it? Wait- we don't get to eat any cake? "Hold on-hold on. First your lucky there's actual cake on the plates- in my day all stage food was made out of cold thick mashed potatoes with food coloring." Mrs. Harper warned. " And it is corny- but that's the way dinner theatre is supposed to be. It's a murder mystery- it gets the audience involved with what's going on in the show and they determine the outcome. "Death by Dessert" will be fun, you'll see. And remember-this is a fundraiser. Your helping raise money for a local family in need. The characters are over the top-you get to overact on purpose!"
They all agreed the dinner theatre concept was different from what they have done before, and they loved the idea of being really creative with their roles and they could help the Watson family with their medical bills.
"Besides, we'll serve the audience chocolate cake for dessert after their pasta dinner. Since the chocolate cake is poisoned in the play it will be fun to then serve them a slice with a sinister smile."
" I want pasta now...." Whined Nathan. "Wait-THEY get cake and we don't?! Not cool Mrs. H.-not cool."
" Well there might be an extra cake in your cast party, how's that?"
" Alright! And pasta?"
"Let me talk to the cafeteria crew and see if we can have a meal too." conceded Mrs. Harper.
" The school cafeteria is making the food? What?" complained Gracie. "Noo- that's lame too. Oh wait, its our class that is making the pasta- just IN the cafeteria, right? Still a bakery cake would be better.... I mean, they could turn out to be Nathan-style, you know?"
Nathan protested, others laughed then Jenna stood up, " That's it! We can have like a contest where local bakeries compete to see who has the best chocolate cake for the show- and we get them to donate them for the cause!"
"Jenna, that's brilliant! We could use the cake testing as a way to promote the show. We'll get a local station to televise it, and choose a winner -the bakery gets a tax write-off , we get free cake and fabulous advertising. I LOVE this idea-great thinking Jenna!" said Mrs. Harper.
"Did I say all that? Wow- I AM brilliant!" replied Jenna.
" Hey- there was a restaurant in LA that named their cake the same as the play..it was a famous French restaurant-we should call them." Crosby added.
"It was called Death by Dessert? asked Mrs. Harper.
" No, um- Death by Chocolate-that's it. But it was amazing. I went with my parents- I'll call them." offered Crosby.
"They would be great contestants. Thank you Crosby." said Mrs. Harper. " This is really a great idea- but now we have a lot of planning to do and we just created more work for ourselves, you know."
Newly energized, they sat and divided the duties and made a plan. Jenna handled soliciting the bakeries. Gracie was contacting and securing a TV station for coverage. Crosby was making new posters, Nathan distributing them and Mrs. Harper would handle all the arrangements with the school. They would all be judges.
"And I get to eat cake ! " Nathan exclaimed raising his hand in the air in a fist pump....but forgetting that hand held the foam compound that now dripped down his arm and onto his shirt.The day of the tasting came held on the front lawn of the school, hoping to draw a bigger crowd. Folding tables were set with white tablecloths and full formal looking (but plastic) tableware. Students dressed as a wait staff bustled about the service area making sure all was in order.The players area was roped off with chrome and velvet stanchions borrowed from the bank down the street in a semi-circular fashion just in front of the main steps to the high school. Just four steps up was a perfect place for a stage area between the two pillars on either side of the massive front doors. The cement platform was easily 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep , perfectly framing the long white draped judges table. The cast, now contest judges, took their seats behind the table all dressed in perfect formal attire.
Noticing the glasses filled with water at each setting Nathan said patting his stomach, “ Good! That’s a lot of cake coming up- we will need to wash them down!”
“Nathan- you take just one bite of each cake slice, maybe two and cleanse your palette between each cake. We have 20 cakes to taste-pace yourself.” Warned Mrs. Harper.
“One bite? Mrs. H-c’mon, its cake- there’s always room for cake. But 20- I didn’t know we had 20 bakeries in town.”
“ We don’t,” Jenna said proudly, I allowed them each to enter more than one if they wanted-increases their odds and gives them more exposure.”
As they discussed how they should chew and expressions on their faces, because this too was a show- a show before the show, Mr. Watson , the principal, spoke to the crowd that now looked to be about a 100 or so that gathered around. He pointed out the line of waiters making their way in each holding a full decadent chocolate cake sporting a number stuck on top with a toothpick. These would be placed on the table in the center for all to see and admire. The judges would then be served a piece from a duplicate of each already sliced sporting the same number. In addition our first set of waiters would be serving bite sized samples of each to guests.
The contest began, and all was going so well. The crowd was having fun, the improvisational performance flawless and Nathan ate cake. Too much cake. Though warned, he shoved much more than one bite of each slice into his mouth.
Suddenly , an angry chef came running into the center of the contest demanding in a thick French accent that his cake be removed from the proceedings immediately. But why several asked.
“ I will not have my superb Death by Chocolate masterpiece associated with a production serving poisoned cake! When you are using MY cake in the show, everyone will think I poisoned my cakes!” he exclaimed and added a few French exclamations better left untranslated.
Mrs. Harper was on her feet and by his side quickly, “Chef Marcel! It is just a play- everyone knows there is no actual poison in the cake.” She pleaded.
As he continued to protest he found his cake on the center table and lifted it in the air to whisk away, another Chef in the crowd came forward and said, “ And how do you know YOUR cake will be served? Why do you think you will win?” he asked-much too close to Chef Marcel’s face.
In true duel fashion, Chef Marcel leaned into him and said, “Because my cake is the best, of course!” The two Chefs continued to argue quite loudly and flamboyantly and then- in what seemed like slow motion, Nathan put his hand to his mouth to force the cake he’s eaten to saty down and hurriedly ran behind the chefs making his way to a restroom. He accidentally nudged Chef Marcel’s elbow of the arm that held his cake in the air. The cake did a perfect somersault a foot above their heads and landed squarely on the other chef’s face.
All were silent for the longest second ever, then from somewhere in the crowd we heard, “FOOD FIGHT!” And just like a scene from one of those teen movies we all wanted to be in came an onslaught of cake throwing. On.every.single.person. At the end everyone looked like chocolate people. When a custodian turned the hose on everyone the screaming started and everyone ran away.
As they cleaned up the mess, Mrs. Harper tried to console. “ We had no way of knowing this would happen. C’mon, let’s get this done. We have rehearsal.” They all just stared at her in disbelief.” Yes, the show must go on-you know that. We have sold tickets and a family depending on us.”
After the show, Mrs. Harper read the review in the paper aloud at the cast party, “ In what was the most enjoyable pre-show ever performed, our local teens and area chefs involved their audience in a 5 star food fight with some of the most delicious cakes ever made. Over $10, 000.00 was raised for a family in dire need to a standing room only crowd who gave much more in donations than the price of admission. Well done. Bravo to all.”
“They thought that we staged the whole thing?” asked Crosby.
“Mmm-hmm.” murmured Mrs. Harper as she made her way to answer her doorbell. It was Chef Marcel, standing there with a smile on his face and a beautifully wrapped gift.
“ Mrs. Harper.” He started, kissing her hand. “ I would extend my apologies for the catastrophe I started at your event. But it seems I brought us both acclaim neither of us could foresee. My bakery cannot keep enough cake in stock! My gift to you.”
He started to leave, then added “ You know-a deep, dark chocolate is actually the perfect flavor to hide the bitter taste of poison….. so I’m told.”
When Mrs. Harper opened the cake there stood a perfectly decadent beautiful chocolate cake.
About the author
I am a transient New Yorker (always in that New York state of mind) living in glorious southern California. I am currently working at a private K-12 school where I teach theatre outside of the box and am the Artistic Director.