Pittsfield, Mass. – “The Cake,” which is playing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. through July 15 is a really smart play about a complicated topic.
It deals with decent people who disagree with each other over fundamental social choices. They are emotional over their choices, but are never unkind to each other.
Indeed, sometimes the characters seem too nice as the play tries to look at a hot button issue from all sides and in a civil manner. Initially, “The Cake” seems almost too kind. After all, how do you deny others services because you disagree with their life-style without being nasty?
Actually, that’s the pleasure of “The Cake,” However, in play that conflict comes from within. It’s a play about how difficult it is to adjust, to change, and to accept what is new and different. The conflict is within individuals who have to find the strength to operate outside their personal comfort level.
As the title suggests, “The Cake” is about Della, a small town baker in North Carolina, who cannot in good conscience make a wedding cake for a gay couple. This isn’t a case of hating gays. Jen, one of the brides, is like a daughter to Della. In fact, her decision to lie and tell the couple she is too booked to make their cake is as painful to Della as it is to Jen and her partner, Macy.
Perhaps because the play was written before the Supreme Court’s recent controversial decision, “The Cake” is a more objective look at personal choices. Each character has doubts about their course of action and thus, no one is self-righteous about their position. The result is a thoughtful play, filled with humor and insight.
Della is a person who believes in following recipes. As a spiritual person who believes the bible gives her the proper recipe to live a good life. She might have doubts, but she is not going to go off script. Especially when her husband is even more rigid about rules than is she.
Debra Jo Rupp is phenomenal in creating Della as a gentle, pleasant woman who is a wonderful friend and a dutiful wife. She has almost no aspirations beyond winning a national reality show that would prove her a master baker. What makes her journey so touching is she learns to be her own person without giving up her core beliefs. It’s a touching, wise and funny portrayal.
Jen moved to Brooklyn and found an environment that is open to change. Now, back to her roots in North Carolina, she longs for the life she dreamed of as a young girl. She wants the princess wedding and the approval of relatives and community. She learns that approval comes easier when you conform.
Macy is more outspoken about injustice. She describes herself as a gay, black, female agnostic. That, she says, means she has spent her life not belonging. As Jen waivers, Macy begins to doubt their future together. White picket fences are not in her future.
The 90-minute work is plea for a person to not only decide what they believe in but to know why they believe in anything. It’s the kind of work that doesn’t try to change your mind, but leaving the theater, the chances are pretty good that you will be less quick to make condemning judgment about people with whom you disagree. That’s not only good theater, it’s a good way to live life.
“The Cake” continues at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Mass. through July 15. Tickets and schedule information at 413-236-8888 or barringtonstageco.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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