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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Macey Levin

The lucky guy is. It is a woman.— Della
You're not making that cake.— Tim
Several weeks ago the United States Supreme Court found in favor of a bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for two gay men because same-sex marriage went against his religious faith. This incident gave Bekah Brunstetter the idea to write a provocative, hilarious play, The Cake, currently at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Della (Debra Jo Rupp) owns a bake shop in North Carolina, her specialty being cakes of seductive sugary perfection. Jen (Virginia Vale,) the daughter of Della's now-deceased best friend, arrives with Macy (Nemuna Ceesay) for a seemingly offhand visit. They are a lesbian couple. In six months they plan to be married in town and they ask Della to make the wedding cake.

This brings the deeply religious Della to a choice she never expected to face. She must decide to follow her beliefs or satisfy the wishes of a young woman she regards as her own child. The most profound exchange of attitudes and beliefs that follows is between Della and Macy resulting in mutual antipathy.

There are two sub-plots: Tim (Douglas Rees), Della's strait-laced, plumber husband, orders her not to make the cake. This is indicative of the relationship they have developed over a number of years in that he makes virtually all decisions in their life. The marriage is catapulted into a major eruption. Macy and Jen must examine their relationship and their different backgrounds. Macy is an African-American from Brooklyn while Jen is from this small Southern town.

Everyone is caught in a moral dilemma. There are clashes among the characters ranging from the obvious reactions to same-sex marriage to the authority of The Bible to family dysfunction to marital relationships.

Della has been selected as a contestant on the TV reality program "The Great American Baking Show," hosted by George (Morrison Keddie), a stentorian emcee, whom we never see. Della plays out fantasies that do not go well and reveal her deepest subliminal fears. She has little control over her own life. Tim's dominance, the "...Baking Show" fantasies, and now Jen's news, and bravery in confiding in Della, force a recogniition that she is not who she'd like to be. Della realizes that her role in life is subject to what others, especially Tim, foist on her.

Debra Jo Rupp is a marvel as Della. Her witty opening monologue reveals her cake-making ability and alludes to her religious ideals. As she becomes more involved in the whirling conflicts that take on a life of their own Della wends her way to the strength that will now define her. Rupp has many one-liners and her delivery moves in an instant from a light mood into one of poignancy. This is a performance to be relished.

Macy is a firebrand defending her sexuality and her relationship with Jen. A charismatic Ceesay holds the stage in her scenes with both Della and Jen that bring difficult subjects to the fore. Her opinions are bluntly and intensely stated. In her softer moments, she is warm and charming.

The character caught in a whirlpool of emotions is Jen, beautifully played by Virginia Vale. Loving Macy and Della while attempting to honor her mother's hopes, she finds herself torn as she listens to both her fiancee and second mother. Vale creates a sympathetic and courageous young woman as she makes life-fulfilling decisions.

Douglas Rees's Tim is a big man physically and ultimately as a husband. He is initially more involved with his attitudes toward gays and his own sexuality. His voyage to change is centered in two hilarious scenes. Though peripheral to the main plot line, his scenes with Della are priceless.

The script by Ms. Brunstetter is both insightful and uproarious. She tackles the controversies head-on by allowing each character to state his or her beliefs and deepest emotions. Because the characters are very well-defined, the dialogue and the acting are so real the audience feels as if it is eavesdropping.

The economical writing with its combination of humor and pathos, even during confrontations, is also due to the efficient direction of Jennifer Chambers. Her staging is clean, creates effective stage pictures and mines the nuances of the arguments so that each character has an observable attitude. The pace is tight so that the play moves swiftly.

Tim Mackabee's beautifully appointed set is the kind of bake shop that often dots large cities and small towns. Its showcases, the work table, the furniture, the wall decorations and especially the many cakes provided by Simply Sweet make our mouths long for a bite as soon as we enter the theater. There are also two bedrooms that provide arenas for love and argument. The various rooms feel homey.

The lighting by Matthew Richards is unobtrusive except in the fantasy scenes when it is ablaze with color. Alexander Sovronsky's original music, much of it delicate, establishes the tones of the various scenes. The many costumes designed by Tricia Barsamian define the characters' ages and personalities.

Several questions are raised throughout the play: Is Della a bigot because she remains true to those principles that have guided her life? Is a racially-mixed relationship, straight or gay, filled with love, able to withstand the pressures brought by society? Can people, regardless of long-held beliefs, transcend them to lend love and support to others? Regardless of one's stance on these issues, The Cake is a special play.

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The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Jennifer Chambers
Cast: Derbra Jo Rupp (Della) Nemuna Ceesay (Macy) Virginia Vale (Jen) Douglas Rees (Tim) Morrison Keddie (George)
Scenic Design: Tim Mackabee
Lighting Design: Matthew Richards
Costume Design: Tricia Barsamian
Sound Design/Composer: Alexander Sovronsky
Wig Design: Trent Pcenicni
Stage Manager: Robin Grady
Running Time: ninety minutes; no intermission
Barrington Stage company, St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA From 6/21/18; closing 7/15/18
Reviewed by Macey Levin at June 26 performance

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