BWW Review: THE CAKE at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
The best desserts are made with delicious layers that include some surprising flavors. They make you want another piece and to know how they were made. That's how it is with Bekah Brunstetter's THE CAKE now running at Rivendell Theatre. Each scene of this wonderful work is filled with bites that are both bitter and sweet. And you definitely want more than just one slice.
Brooklyn resident Jen (Tucker White) travels back to her small hometown in North Carolina with her fiancée Macy (Krystel McNeil) where they plan to fulfill Jen's dream of marrying there. Part of the dream is to have Jen's deceased mother's best friend, Della (Tara Mallen), make one of her famous cakes for them. Della, the owner of her own bakery, has just been cast as a contestant on the "Great American Baking Show." She is thrilled by the baking request until she finds out there are two brides.
From there we follow Della's journey as she evaluates her beliefs, the struggle of her head versus her heart, and the state of her marriage to Tim (Keith Kupferer). While supportive of each other, the couple has fallen into a numbing routine with very few sparks. Meanwhile, Jen and Macy are forced to look at where they stand with each other. Jen feels like she has two existences and finds it a challenge to reconcile them. Macy has difficulty understanding how Jen could miss any part of this world, while she constantly searches for her own sense of belonging.
Brunstetter's script is inspired in part by the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, which is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. THE CAKE is a wonderful blend of humor and heartache and feels incredibly honest and sincere. Each path the script takes keeps you intrigued and content to stay on the ride. The piece soars under Lauren Shouse's resolute direction.
As Della, Mallen gives one of the best performances I've seen on a Chicago stage in the past year. From the moment the lights go up, her face comes alive and she expertly draws us into her story. She tells it all beautifully. Mallen constructs a brave, funny, heart-filled, and genuine portrayal of a woman finding her way. She helps us understand Della's conflicts, fears, and what brings her joy. Each note is flawlessly executed.
Kupferer embodies the loving husband who sees himself as a man's man but is damaged by not being able to give his wife a child. His hard edges are nicely rounded by his warmth. With each scene, he reveals another side of this blue-collar man. White and McNeil have nice chemistry, more so in their quiet moments together. Each of them finds moments to shine as they show us more about Jen and Macy's egos and mindsets.
Arnel Sancianco's set and its decoration are beautiful and smart. Set pieces rolling out from the bakery to create "at home scenes' is cleverly executed. It makes the Rivendell space feel incredibly homey and welcoming. The entire creative team of Danielle Myerscough (Properties Design), Janice Pytel (Costume Design), Cat Wilson (Lighting Design), Shannon Marie O'Neill (Sound Design) and "Cake Designer" Erin Martin all expertly enhance the authenticity of the setting.
THE CAKE is a perfectly delicious addition to the Chicago theatre season. It's likely to have you going back for seconds. It's definitely worth the calories.
THE CAKE runs through May 20, 2018, at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago. For tickets, call (773) 334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org