BWW Review: You Will Want More Than One Bite of THE CAKE at Terrific New Theatre
Bekah Brunstetter's "The Cake," is a funny and touching drama/comedy whipped with tablespoons of reflection, love, and acceptance. Her style of storytelling is heavy in comedic beats, snappy dialogue, and touching drama. Her signature writing is also featured in the hit NBC series "This Is Us". Brunstetter grew up in a North Carolina community that was heavily conservative and Baptist. She baked this play with corn fed current events, and ingredients originating from familiar kitchens she grew up in that had many cupboards of intolerance. "The Cake" is built with layered conflicts in relationships, acceptance, family structure and religion. Compassionate understanding is the missing ingredient that all the characters are hoping to find.
Della (Holly Croney Dikeman ) is a baker gifted by the holy trinity of the church of confection. She is a skilled sugar, butter and flour fanatic with a giving heart. She holds great importance in following directions to the letter. This applies to her recipes, the word of God, and her bland marriage with blue collar plumber Tim (Al Cohn). The upside down cake turns when Della has a surprise visit from Jen (Taylor Hale) the adult child of one of Della's oldest friends. The first surprise added is that Jen (Hale) is getting married soon in town. The second surprise is Jen's fiancé is female. Macy (Gabrielle Semoine) is a black New York journalist who is burdened with voicing her bountiful opinions. Her and Jen share a strong love and are unapologetic about it. Jen (Hale) has come to ask Della (Dikeman) to bake her signature cake to be at the reception of her planned fairy tale wedding. This shock of Jen coming out creates a ripple that washes over every aspect of Della's (Dikeman) life. The plot that follows has no recipe, and is without the direction that she depends on so greatly.
This cast serves memorable character work with honest relatability. Southern charm and regional dialects are played with a real appreciation, and not for laughs. Holly Croney Dikeman gives Della a signature doe eyed, southern relatability. Al Cohn gives a confused heart and voice to Al. Gabrielle Semoine brings Macy a rough edge and sweet center to the Brooklyn native. Taylor Hale projects Jen's many notes of a woman torn between two worlds. Steven Sullivan as the Host is a laugh riot with a Monty Python like delivery. Director Cari Gisler Oliver provides a dense structured performance (without an intermission). Scott Littleton's lighting and Steven Fister's bright, and bubbly set allows for scene changes that are very creative, and quick. Sally Montgomery's costumes highlight the characters like buttercream edges.
Taylor Hale (Jen) is a recent transplant from Georgia. "The Cake" is her first show in the Magic City. "The show hits close to me. Being a lesbian, this show is just a big deal. You don't see plays like this. It shows who we are in a positive light. I never felt more at home and comfortable in a show. I hope whoever leaves from the show talks about it, and start some positive conversations. This is a huge step forward for so many communities; LBGTQ+, black communities, and everyone. "The Cake" is a very important play. Everyone can take a little piece of something from the show, and some cake too."
Gabrielle Semoine (Macy) found the play to be an amazing challenge. "It's been an intense journey. Usually it's very easy for me to get into a character. But the role of Macy was unlike something I've ever done before. She's a lesbian, a lot tougher than me, very snappy, and she has a Brooklyn accent. It was kind of hard to grasp her. But Cari's direction was just phenomenal. She gave me many different routes and avenues to get into Macy. That made it so much easier."
Cari Gisler Oliver celebrates "The Cake" as her directorial debut. "When I first decided I was going to direct. The plan was to do a nice simple show; one with very few people and costumes. Then I got this show that has eight million cakes and moving pieces. (Laughs) Every day was filled with questions. How do I solve this problem? What do people do when this happens? I just took it piece by piece. I've been involved in theater for many years here in Birmingham. I knew one of the cast members. Everyone else was new to me. It was really fun just getting to know everybody. They all have very distinctive styles. I was constantly just having to Bob and weave. This is the most kindest, and decent set of people I've ever worked with. I'm thankful to have guidance from TNT executive director Tam DeBolt. She knows what she's doing. (Laughs) It's been exciting."
The message in Brunstetter's writing resonates with confronting prejudice and stereotypes. Without being either polite or apologetic. "The Cake" at Terrific New Theatre provides touching writing and engaging performances. Each characters faith, friendship, and futures are tossed into the dough mixer with unexpected results. It proves love is worth taking that first bite. No matter the flavor.
Directed by Cari Gisler Oliver
Della - Holly Croney Dikeman
Tim - Al Cohn
Jen - Taylor Hale
Marcy - Gabrielle Semoine
The Voice - Steven Sullivan
Scenic Designer - Stephen Fister
Stage Manager - Rachael Pike
Lighting Design - Scott Littleton
Costumes - Sally Montgomery
Terrific New Theatre (at Pepper Place)
2821 2nd Ave. S. Birmingham AL
Tickets and info: terrificnewtheatre.com or (205) 328-0868