"King Lear"

Through Oct. 24

The Shakespeare Theatre

Tickets: 202/547-1122

In director Michael Kahn's version of Shakespeare's "King Lear," the titular monarch gets a birthday cake that's no mere trifle. Elaborately swirled with icing and crowned with a layer sculpted to look like England, it would feed about 1,500 if it were real -- a truly imperial confection. And sweet symbolism, too, as the king carves the top tier up for his three daughters. (Pictured above, Ted Van Griethuysen as Lear cuts the cake surrounded by members of the company.)

If the cake looks good enough to eat, the credit goes to Falls Church cake decorator B. Keith Ryder, who iced it lovingly in polymer.

It took about 10 hours for Ryder, who runs BCakes out of his home, to frost the thing. Set and costume designer Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili drew up the plans for the two-tier confection, and the prop shop built it out of laminated layers of foam.

"They brought me this big hunk of Styrofoam," recalls Ryder. "I thought, `Wow! Boy, I hope I have enough icing.' "

Luckily, that wasn't a problem. Ryder had plenty of tubs of the fake stuff around -- what bakers use to decorate their phony display cakes, so they won't melt in sunny shop windows.

Ryder's frosting technique, he says, involved "the same sort of stuff they teach at Wilton" -- the well-known cake decorating company and school -- "but I turned a corner when I started doing the top layer. I used some freehand sculpture techniques, got my hands in it a lot more."

For Ryder, 35, the job was not just a creative challenge, but a way to reconnect with his theater background. The former William and Mary theater major had worked as an actor, director and scenic designer until, he says, he got burned out and started baking.

Lear's cake isn't the only dessert the Shakespeare Theatre has ordered from Ryder. He was also asked to make a cake for director Kahn's surprise birthday party, which took place this week. The final product, a smaller edible version of Lear's, had, umm, 29 candles on top, we're told.