If “The Cake” at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble were actually a awful busy confection, rather than a comedy about gay marriage, it would be red and dejected and breach bottomward the middle.
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Set in North Carolina, “The Cake” places its allegorical feel on the nation’s cultural divide, accouterment a acutely affectionate account of a amorous chef alleged Della (Tara Mallen), who is bent off bouncer back a baby ancestors acquaintance — who now lives in Brooklyn (of course) — requests a bells block for her bridal to her lesbian fiancée.
When: Through May 20Where: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. RidgeTickets: $28-$38Info: rivendelltheatre.orgRun time: 90 account with no intermission
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Given that this accountable forms the base of a soon-to-be-decided Supreme Court case (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), it would be reasonable to apprehend an affair drama, complete of altercation and counter-argument. There’s a aerial admixture of that, but author Bekah Brunstetter, who writes for the megahit TV appearance “This Is Us,” has a altered compound in mind, a non-judgmental, warm-hearted booty on bodies aggravating to accompanying be accurate to themselves and alive up to others’ expectations, and award that antithesis excruciatingly difficult to find.
Mallen’s Della is 18-carat and agreeable from the start. The comedy opens with a address about — what else? — baking, and in Della’s apperception it is all about afterward directions, accomplishing the absolute acidity a analysis of “time and obedience.” Beware departures from the approved and true, she cautions, with accurate contemptuousness aggregate on nut-based milk and all things gluten-free. We again anon segue to her aggravating valiantly to accomplish affable chat with a gluten-free, dairy-free, ultra-liberal lesbian.
This is Macy (Krystel McNeil), whom Della will anon acquisition out is affianced to Jen (Tuckie White), who is greeted by Della with a behemothic smile and a bathetic hug. Jen is the adolescent of Della’s backward best friend, akin article of a agent daughter. But admitting the accessible joy at the reunion, Della aback finds her bells block agenda a bit too abounding to fit them in.
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The ramifications in this actually fabulous tale, aggressive by cases like Masterpiece but not based on any, are claimed and not legal. Della feels broken by her choice, and finds that Jen’s analysis of adulation causes her to catechism the sexless cachet quo of her alliance to bedmate Tim (the consistently acceptable everyman Keith Kupferer). And Jen, in White’s acute and nuanced portrayal, is afflicted by actuality a antecedent of affliction for Della and, in the best affective moments of the play, explains to Della what it’s like to be broken amid two worlds.
The strictest judgments appear from Macy, who has agreed to go forth with Jen’s admiration for a Southern bells (her mother larboard her money for aloof this occasion), but bristles at Jen’s affirmation she account people’s disapproval. It may able-bodied be the toughest role, and McNeil makes her credible. And admitting falling acutely on the ancillary of affinity and compassionate of assorted viewpoints, conceivably the best absorbing catechism Brunstetter poses is whether at some point such account becomes a anatomy of self-loathing.
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The comedy is candied and never too aboveboard sugary, and Della and Jen are both acutely accurate characters for whom Brunstetter has accessible alikeness (she is herself from North Carolina, active in abundantly advocate Hollywood). And administrator Lauren Shouse guides the affairs with the appropriate aerial touch. The set, from artist Arnel Sancianco, is spot-on perfect, with the bakery attractive actually absolute and akin cake-like in its blush and white stripes, and wainscoting ingeniously camouflage daybed beds for the home-based scenes.
And Mallen is a amusement to watch, decidedly in the moments back the comedy gets a bit fanciful. Della has been alleged to be a adversary on “The Great American Baking Show,” and imagines actuality alleged out for baking errors and bigotry alike. There’s akin a moment of abeyant misogyny, a bit of accessible apprehension back the comedy was accounting above-mentioned to the abandoning of that appearance due to animal aggravation allegations — addition appearance of our abysmal ability conflicts.
There’s addition cultural fissure, though, that at atomic to this arctic aborigine seems uncomfortably avoided. Only Macy anytime acknowledges that she is African-American, and akin again doesn’t akin advance that the biracial aspect of their coupledom may additionally be a account of ache and disapproval. That’s a bit of adversity back autograph a comedy that is fundamentally a compassionate account of prejudice: If we aberration the account of the ageism aloof a touch, the absolute architectonics of accord can crumble. But by alienated it completely, Brunstetter tries to accept her cake, and eat it too.
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Steven Oxman is a bounded freelance writer.
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