The Cake: A Review
Della has a wonderful life. She bakes delicious cakes and these creations consume her entire world. She has a lovely shop in the town of Winston-Salem in North Carolina. That is where she holds court and works her baking magic. She’s married to a well meaning man free of complexities. The happy couple lead a simple well managed existence. Della has dreams. Her exceptional skills have landed her a spot on a nationally televised baking competition. She believes that her delicious cakes can change the world. Della believes that with all her heart. She believes it because she understands and appreciates her God given gifts and her faith in her religious beliefs is unshakable.
When you enter the Manhattan Theatre Club’s theatere to indulge in this ninety minute treat there on stage sits one of Della’s creations. All alone. Big as life. It looks perfect. Pristine. You can’t help but admire its exactness. But as we all know a cake is constructed of levels and layers. Dowels support its structure. Fondant and icing hide any imperfections. Time in the forge has been invested in the baking. However, no matter how perfect it appears it’s meant to be sliced into and served up on a plate for others to consume.
Della’s life, through no fault of her own, is served up one day when a mysterious woman of color arrives in her shop. The woman has a notebook and a lot of questions. She’s soon followed by the return of the baker’s goddaughter who brings news of her impending nuptials. Della is thrilled and of course offers to bake the cake for the wedding until she discovers that these two women are wedding each other. This is where Della’s life begins to unravel. This is where what she’s been taught is wrong begins to conflict with what she feels in her heart to be sincere. Her marriage is put to the test, she begins to question everything about herself, her skills fail and her cakes fall, she loses her place in the world. Della begins to learn that it’s no easy task to change everything you believe in to become a completely different person.
At a time in our history when opinions are polarized to extremes by electronic and social media talking heads, bullies, and bots The Cake sets out to present things as they just might truly be. There are without a doubt extremes and extremists but for the most part people in this country are out there sincerely wrestling with their personal beliefs. They’re genuinely conflicted and are trying to find ways to hold on to what they’ve been ingrained to believe is gospel while trying to understand what appears to be the equally true beliefs of others. This may be an optimistic point of view but if one can get passed the media storm we might just see that it’s these real people that will eventually bridge the gaps in this critical juncture.
In a beautifully nuanced performance Debra Jo Rupp, who is close to becoming one of our national treasures, uses her considerable comedic and dramatic skills to present Della as a woman in extreme moral chaos. It’s a phenomenal thing to watch her balance humor and sadness as she wrestles with every part of her life while trying to keep her faith.Goddaughter Jen is Della’s emotional and cultural doppelganger and Genevieve Angelson matches both their conflicted southern traditions and sentiments in a truly heartfelt performance. Her fiancée Macy is the outsider here with her direct New York sensibilities. Marinda Anderson gives Macy the power she deserves while also wisely allowing her to bend her will for the sake of true love. Della’s husband Tim, the only male in the cast, could easily have become a cookie cutter southern male stereotype but Dan Daily revels in revealing Tim’s layers.
The Cake is good, oh so good, and you’re going to want to indulge in bite after bite of each delicious slice. Bekah Brunstetter has written a brave script and Lynne Meadow’s direction is strong. Both women have not only populated this world with an equally excellent cast but they also chose to ply their crafts with a decided subtilty that allows ideas and moments room to breathe fresh life into staid and stubborn points of view.
The Cake is also presented in a beautifully designed world. Set designer John Lee Beatty uses three turntables to move us between locations which makes for graceful transitions. The bakery is the star here. It’s simply exquisite, fanciful, and sentimental all on its own. The glorious display of cakes will make you long to visit Della’s domain. As the tables turn watch in the background to see the amazing standing lamps shaped like topsy turvy cakes provided by gifted lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg. The entire design team including Tom Broecker’s costume designs and John Gromada’s original music and sound design is to be highly commended.
This is a wonderful production that doesn’t have all the answers to these very complicated questions. In all actuality it’s not trying to and anyone seeking them here will be disappointed. What it does have is the heart of the matter embodied in a cast of characters that are trying to work through their own questions all while trying to understand the questions of others. In their conflicts with themselves and each other they’re trying to find solutions and acceptance without resorting to anger and hate and violence. There’s deep felt sincerity, joyous laughter, intense personal debate and it all adds up to a moving portrayal of what we all might be if we could just talk over a good slice of one of Della’s magical confections.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a Drama Desk member. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
131 West 55th St
New York, NY 10019
$30 - $89