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Review: THE CAKE - A Well-Executed, Tasty, Bittersweet Baked Food for Savoring Thought

THE CAKE/by Bekah Brunstetter/directed by Jennifer Chambers/Atwater Village Theatre/thru August 6, 2017

The Echo Theater Company's world premiere of playwright Bekah Brunstetter's THE CAKE brilliantly demonstrates the success of following a winning recipe for a memorable theatre production. Start with Brunstetter's witty, relationship-focused script on very timely, hot-button issues of today; generously add a talented cast of actors (led by the most delicious Debra Jo Rupp); mix well with Jennifer Chambers' sure-handed direction; and top off with perfectly synchronized and fitting technical elements; and you have a very well-executed THE CAKE.

Rupp embodies Della, the skilled baker and family relative everybody would want in their immediate family - unless you disagree with her strict religious beliefs, that is. Della has made the finalists of bakers to compete on television's The Great American Baking Show. Della's life point of views subtlety reveal themselves as she shares with the audience, her game plan for contending in the Show. Follow the pre-set directions; respect the precise measurements of the ingredients (no substitutions); do not improvise with new elements.

Atwater Village audiences should be familiar with Rupp's comedy chops from her eight seasons of That 70's Show as Kitty Forman, mother to Topher Grace's Eric Forman. But Rupp's dramatic readings of the conflicted Della will tear up your heart and question your black-and-white definition of 'bigot.'

The term 'bigot' enters the play's consciousness as an anonymous comment to an article written/posted by Macy, a militant New York writer who comes into Della's bakery. Carolyn Ratteray attacks her role of Macy with all the zealous, fire and blinders of one set to advance her mission/her cause, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire. In Macy and Della's initial scene, Macy blatantly points out the evilness of Della's baking ways (diabetes, obesity, etc.). But the moments of Rupp and Ratteray's eating face-off (Macy - a health bar and Della - a piece of one of her cakes) - simply priceless!

Macy's not in Della's bakery (in Winston-Salem, North Carolina) on a fluke. Macy's there to arrange for a wedding cake.

Enter Jen, the little girl Della helped her close friend raise. Now grown up, Jen has returned to Winston-Salem to get married. Shannon Lucio expertly strums the audience's heartstrings like a virtuoso violinist as Jen, with her one foot physically in Brooklyn and her heart still emotionally attached to her hometown and family. Determined to marry Macy, Jen still wants the validation from her deceased mom, via Della;, but suspects she can't get it. The validation Jen's seeking would come as Della agreeing to bake Jen and Macy's wedding cake.

Joe Hart seamlessly humanizes his role of Della's blue-collar husband Tim, giving this 'bigot' a dependable responsibility of providing for his wife - with the occasional cuddling.

Dramatic lighting (Pablo Santiago) and sound (Jeff Gardner) effects frequently interrupts Della's real-life actions as she imagines actually being on The Great American Baking Show. Morrison Keddie commandingly voice-overs George, the host of The Great American Baking Show, alternately instructing Della on how to win the Show and how to deal with her real-life dilemma.

Pete Hickok has smartly designed a very detailed, realistic bakery, with two bedroom sets at opposite ends of the stage, requiring no break in story flow for set changes. Costumer Elena Flores has dressed all in their appropriate finery and everyday wear, especially Jen's gorgeous white gown.

If only world problems could be as easily solved as Della suggests - by all eating her wonderful baked goods. Ahhhhh!!! THE CAKE definitely succeeds in illustrating the difficulty in separating one's opposing beliefs, from the person who believes it - once you get to actually meet the person. How funny that the person I, myself, should be rooting for happens to be the character I find most unsympathetic. And with all the conflict between Macy and Jen, I wasn't gung-ho on their continuing relationship. Not so black-and-white. A must-see.

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