“The Cake” Review – Manhattan Theater Club’s Recipe for Laughter, Love and Equality

Debra Jo Rupp in THE CAKE, Photo: Joan Marcus

“What you have to do is follow the directions.” And so begins The Cake. Written by Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Lynne Meadow, it stars Debra Jo Rupp, who opens the play sharing the secret to baking a really good cake. We soon see those directions are also her blueprint to living a really good life. 

Debra Jo Rupp, Genevieve Angelson and Marinda Anderson discover who the cake is really for

What, exactly, a life should look like is the topic of this delicious show, The Cake running through March 31 at Manhattan Theater Club at City Center – Stage I, 131 W. 55th Street. It tells the story of Della, proud owner of Della’s Sweets in Winston-Salem, N.C. whom we meet excitedly preparing to be a contestant on The Great American Baking Show. Della perceives this show to be her destiny. Winning, she expects, will become the biggest accomplishment of her life. She is prepared to triumph at whatever baking challenge will be thrown her way. Little does she know it is actually about to walk into her store.

Enter Jen. The daughter of Della’s best friend who passed away, five years earlier, Jen, now living in Brooklyn, is visiting her hometown of Winston with her friend, Macy. She has been like a child to Della, who was unable to have her own. Imagine her delight when Jen announces she is getting married and would be honored for Della to bake her wedding cake. Della turns to Jen and Macy, a reporter originally from Philadelphia, and asks about the lucky man. Only it’s not a man, it’s a woman. It’s Macy.

Two beautiful brides, Genevieve Angelson and Marinda Anderson

Della’s dilemma of whether or not to bake The Cake becomes the challenge she wrestles with. A lesbian marriage does not follow the directions of Christian morality. It is against the Bible. It is not part of the plan. Butter and sugar are the rewards for sticking to the directions and making good choices. This marriage is like a cake with no butter, sugar or gluten. It’s even worse than using a sugar substitute like Splenda. Baking their cake is out of the question. Della sees the decision as boxed cake mix cut ‘n dry… except for the one sweet ingredient. Della truly loves Jen.

Debra Jo Rupp hears
Genevieve Angelson talk about her fiancee

While we hear about both sides it can be difficult to understand, but Debra Jo Rupp has us feeling compassion for her predicament. This raw empathy the magic of her Della who admits, “I am of two different minds all the time.” Rupp, a remarkable talent, theater veteran and comedienne extraordinaire well known for That ‘70s Show, displays the heart wrenching conflict between Della’s morals and her love. The situation forcing her to look deeper into her own life, choices and marriage because, “Parts of the way things are don’t work anymore.” Her exploration is both poignant and funny.

Jen, played by Genevieve Angelson (Good Girls Revolt, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeThe Upside) also has her conflicts. In Brooklyn, Jen lives the openly gay lifestyle of a cultured and creative woman. But bring her back to her childhood roots, and her family dinner table comes alive inside her. Angelson’s warm and nuanced performance illustrates what many people experience when parental voices live on in their heads. It is a source of big frustration for her fiancée, Macy, who is fearless, having been raised by a liberal shrink mom, despite estrangement from an unaccepting dad. Marinda Anderson (Teenage DickFar From Heaven), strong, loving and deeply committed to her beliefs, has you rooting for the pair, and feeling assured of their compatible, loving union. As Della’s good ole’ boy husband, Dan Daily (The RivalsSeabiscuit) hilariously moves the needle out of his comfort zone because of his love for his wife.

Debra Jo Rupp and Dan Daily discuss marriage

This play raises questions of how people deal with equal rights, bigotry, LGBT, feminism, a man’s role, childless couples, the rights of business establishments to serve ‘other,’ gay marriage, the Bible, the North vs the South and the power of the press because, even Della has to admit, “The world’s going to change.” Yet, there is one ingredient that will always make people rise. The Cake is really about love. For, in the end, the recipe to a successful life, is love.

Debra Jo Rupp displays a cake

Venue: New York City Center Stage I, New York
Cast: Marinda Anderson, Genevieve Angelson, Dan Daily, Debra Jo Rupp
Playwright: Bekah Brunstetter
Director: Lynne Meadow
Set designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: Tom Broeckner
Lighting designer: Philip S. Rosenberg
Music & sound designer: John Gromada
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club

All photos ©Joan Marcus, 2019

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