Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 29, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage, The Cake

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 15, 2018
by Janice Hanson

Photo by Carolyn Brown
In the opening scene of “The Cake,” Della, portrayed by the versatile Debra Jo Rupp, explains to the audience that when you make a cake, you have to follow the instructions, and if you do, everything turns out right—or so she believes. Within moments, her world view is challenged as Macy (Nemuna Ceesa), comes into her North Carolina cake shop with her own Brooklynite view of the world. When Jen (Virginia Vale) arrives, Della is thrilled to see her old friend’s daughter come back home, grown up, and ready to marry. What she doesn’t realize, is that Jen plans to marry Macy. The kicker—they want Della to make the wedding cake.

If the ethical dilemma of a baker being asked to make a cake for people for whom she can’t morally support sounds familiar—it most certainly is. What makes this play funny, poignant, and ironic, is how well the characters deal with challenges to their belief systems, and how they negotiate interpersonal relationships amidst the backdrop of family and contemporary culture. “The Cake” is not sweet, nor is it saccharine (sorry about the puns). Rather, it is bold, unapologetic, and very real.

Some scenes are so real they are uncomfortable to watch, and audiences should be cautioned about suggestive scenes and partial nudity. But these sections are not gratuitous—they exist because we need to understand the characters’ desires. Whether we desire passion, comfort, or the awakening of desire after a long marriage, these scenes contribute to the humanity that binds the actors’ characters to the audience. Della’s husband Tim, the subtle, hilarious, Douglas Rees, portrays one of the most sympathetic male characters on the stage today.

The script is by Bekah Brunstetter, a supervising producer of NBC’s “This Is Us,” who knows how to weave a good tale. Director Jennifer Chambers masterfully stages it with a driving force and theatrical craft.

The beautiful set designed by Tim Mackabee provides seemless transitions from the cake shop to different bedrooms, but the action is driven by the talented Debra Jo Rupp. Her “likability” is only a part of her charm. She exhibits bravery and total commitment on stage. We’re lucky she’s plying her craft in the Berkshires.