Entertainment » Theatre

The Cake

by Dale Reynolds
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 6, 2017
Debra Jo Rupp and Carolyn Ratteray
Debra Jo Rupp and Carolyn Ratteray   

Contemporary issues can make for quality art; oh, yes, they can. Take, for instance, the idea that if a baker refuses to bake a wedding cake for a same-gender couple, he or she is not facilitating blaspheming their version of an act of love that surely will bring down the wrath of God on his or her head. A storyline presented to us in a brilliant new play, "The Cake," by Bekah Brunstetter.

This 90-minute dramedy, directed with finesse and superb timing by Jennifer Chambers, introduces us to Della (Debra Jo Rupp), a 50-ish owner of a cake shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The daughter of her best friend, dead these many years, Jen (Shannon Lucio), a pretty WASP young woman, desperately wants her "auntie" to make one of her marvelous wedding cakes for the reception after the nuptials. But Jen lacks the courage to instantly tell Della that the person she is to marry is Macy (Carolyn Ratteray), an equally pretty, same age, mixed-race lesbian. Oh, dear. What's a fine, upstanding Christian woman to do???

Reader, I know you take the side of the young couple over the outrageous bigotry of the older woman (and the other "honorable" folk in the town), but the value of Brunstetter's play is that both sides of the debate have been given respectful positioning: Della loves her "niece," and is shocked by the revelation of queerness in this society-shaking event (just one of many idiocies from that neck of the woods), is willing to bless the event by attending it, but cannot see fit to celebrate with a cake that might be memorable, but would mean she approves.

Della's husband, redneck Tim (Joe Hart), isn't nearly as worked up as Della, due no doubt to his not being "family" with Jen, and also since Della is eligible to be a contestant on the televised Great American Bake-Off contest -- her participation threatened, as it turns out, by the current spat being given national attention -- the theatrical tensions are stacked higher and higher.

It's a strikingly lovely play, never condescending to its characters, very funny, and, with Rupp, an actress I blush to admit about whom I had never heard, an actress who gives a master class in comic timing with her Della: subtle, wise, fast-moving, never faltering, which makes her anguish all the more palpable.

Lucio and Ratteray give it their all, sexual intimacies as well as anger in the fight they have over the way Jen won't stand up to Della. Hart's Tim stands by his woman, and the voice of the lower-British baker, George (Morrison Keddie), is hilarious. (Thank casting director Meg Fister for her inputs.)

This is exceptional theater, in the writing, directing, acting and in the smart use of the wide stage (designed by Pete Hickok), in which the stage-right bedroom of Della and Tim "disappears" from our consciousness when the lights on it are off. And the cakes? Well, as a baker myself, I can say they are pretty and luscious to look at (from Los Feliz' Butter Bake Shop, bakers Kaleb King, Kellie Haggett & Elena Calderon). It's a feast for the eyes and nose and a dieter's dilemma.

It's always fun and rewarding to see theater that so boldly attacks the issues of the day, so see it now.

"The Cake" plays through August 13 at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, 90039. For information or tickets, call 310-307-3753 or visit www.EchoTheatreCompany.com.

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