The immediacy of theater is one of its charms – when a show can be launched addressing a topic that’s topical and popular, theater truly has a chance to made a difference, to change minds and start a discussion. Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake is just such a play, unfortunate in its timeliness but important in its theme.
Della (Debra Jo Rupp, well-known for Friends and That ‘70s Show) runs a cake shop with her husband, Tim (Douglas Rees) in North Carolina; she’s just been accepted as a contestant on a reality baking show and is sure she can win. Her late best friend’s daughter Jen (Virginia Vale) arrives in town to plan her wedding; Della is overjoyed to be asked to make Jen’s wedding cake, until she realizes that Jen is engaged to Macy (Nemuna Ceesay) and making a cake for a same-sex wedding goes against everything Della believes in. Her faith and her love for Jen collide – for Della, there doesn’t seem to be a right thing to do in this situation.
Tim Mackabee’s set is a wonder – not only a cake shop that makes one want to step in and visit, but with two rotating set pieces, transforming one side into Della and Tim’s bedroom and the other into Jen and Macy’s bedroom. The cakes, provided by Sydney Casino at Simply Sweet, are absolutely mouthwatering; I doubt there were many people in the theater who didn’t want a piece of cake upon leaving the production.
Having now seen the show, I absolutely can’t imagine anyone but Rupp as Della. She manages the fine line between humor and pathos so delicately – what a wonder to watch. She’s hysterically funny – her one-liners and asides had the audience in uproarious laughter throughout – but this isn’t just a comedy; there’s a very serious vein running throughout, and she taps into that effortlessly. Her dramatic interactions with the other actors are flawless and heartwrenching. Vale’s Jen utterly tears you apart; a young woman trying to follow her heart but filled with worry and shame, you both root for her and are furious with how she’s been treated. Ceesay is strong, upright in her love for Jen and belief in what’s right, her background having made her the woman she is today; the two young women interact so beautifully together and have such an honest, believable relationship. Rees’ Tim is touching, trying as hard as he can to connect with his wife; again, their relationship is believable and so warm.
Jennifer Chambers has done fine work with the direction here; combined with a strong script and extremely talented actors, the show manages to bring both the gravitas required and the humor needed to this serious topic. No judgments are made here – you’re able to see this from both points of view, and although I’m sure we all know where we stand on this particular issue, being able to understand where the other side is coming from, what they’re going through, is never a bad thing.
“The Cake”; Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, MA; through July 15; $48-$15; Run time: 90 minutes; 413-236-8888; https://barringtonstageco.org/