Rivendell Theatre becomes a bake shop
Even before Rivendell Theatre wafts heavily vanilla scented candles your way—and they do!—scenic designer Arnel Sancianco transports us to that delicious moment when you get to lick the icing off your cupcake. We are in a crème de la femme bakeshop, replete with floral wallpaper, a larger than life pink whisk, and multi-tiered cakes adorned with roses, American flag motifs, stripes, polka dots, and soon a Noah’s ark cake made especially for a christening.
The proprietress, Della (Tara Mallen), brings us into her world – inner and outer—in an opening monologue where she explains that the secret of a great cake – just like life--is following the rules. Della, whose cake creations and warm personality have landed her a part in a baking contest reality show, chatters amiably with Macy (Krystel McNeil), a hard-edged Brooklyn born ‘n bred lesbian at odds with the White heteronormative world surrounding her everywhere, let alone in this anachronistic North Carolina bake shop. It’s the last place gluten-averse Macy would ordinarily be. Her soon bride-to-be, though, Jen (Tuckie White) hails from these parts, has grown up with the help of Della’s love, and more than anything wants to live out that queen-for-a-day bride thing fantasy. Getting one of Della’s cake creations for the festivity seems all important to Jen. That, and for most audience goers, the real-world story unfolding now in the courts of how a fundamentalist baker refused services to a gay couple is THE CAKE launch point.
Playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s pen though doesn’t just want to give us political stereotypes. She aims, and succeeds, in forcing the more liberally minded in the crowd to take in Della’s humanity—and not dismiss her as a conservative stereotype. These four characters—Della, her husband Tim (Keith Kupferer), Jen (Tuckie White) whose person embodies the culture war, and her lesbian fiancée Macy—make this fun script come to life.
Expect to laugh a lot, and marvel at Brunstetter’s ability to weave dreams and fantasies into her story in such a way that shouts – “Hey, we are all just humans, aren’t we?”
This writer finds it difficult to imagine an actress better able than Tara Mallen to play Della. With her considerable personable charm—and ability to telegraph the roiling oceans of her inner life with morphing expressions as she listens to the booming voice of the baking contest reality show host— Mallen gives us a Della who instantly fixes in our mind as THE stereotype, and then deftly forces us to see her with more depth than we might otherwise muster on our own.
Will THE CAKE make a dent in where you stand in the culture wars of our time? By this writer’s lights, probably not. Yet, it’s a fun vacation from the straightjacket of hardened political opinions, if but a few hours.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru May 20
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm (EXCEPTThursday, May 10 – no performance that day)
>Saturdays at 4:00pm
Sunday, May 6 and May 20 ONLYat 3:00pm
5779 N. Ridge Avenue
$38 with discounts for student, senior, active military and veterans
Pay What You Can: Five seats (10% of the house) are available for each performance. Reservations are made on a first come, first served basis.
Box Office: (773) 334-7728 or visit the Rivendell Theatre website
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago