A baker getting ready to appear on a competition reality show offers to bake the wedding cake for the daughter of her best friend. Then she finds out that the daughter is marrying a woman. Her subsequent reluctance to make the cake and the fallout from that reluctance forms the story of The Cake which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Inspired by a real-life news story, Bekah Brunstetter’s script has its ups and downs. I thought the story took a little too long to get where it was going especially with a lengthy opening sequence that could have been much more economical. But past that point, the story begins to cook as Brunstetter has a real gift for creating authentic people and shines in intimate scenes that ask the hard questions. Ultimately the story is about acceptance as that is what each character seeks, but it also pursues themes of bigotry, judging others (which flows both ways), family, and seeing things from another’s POV.
Kim Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction adds some serious muscle to the production as her guidance of the intimate scenes truly sing and help to overpower the script’s early shortcomings. Clark-Kaczmarek imbues a tremendous sense of presence on her performers. By that I mean, the actors are always aware of themselves on stage and constantly move or animate which prevents the talky script from becoming static. Her staging is phenomenal as scenes in the bakery use the full space and scenes in the bedroom feel close and snug. Clark-Kaczmarek has also coached her performers to rock solid performances that will hold your attention and get you thinking.
Although a disembodied voice, Brady Patsy generates some guffaws as the host of the baking competition used in interstitials to reflect Della’s inner feelings and turmoil especially when he starts politely insulting her and cheerfully using vulgarities. Doug Rothgeb brings a nice everyman quality to Della’s husband, Tim, who is facing his own perceived failings as a man which has tanked his love life with Della.
I was extraordinarily glad to see Roz Parr finally get a role with some serious meat with which to exercise her prodigious talent. Parr brings an amazing conflicted innocence to the role of Jen. Jen is always of two minds as she tries to balance her orientation with her upbringing and you can see the strain wrought by this internal tug of war written all over her thanks to Parr’s crystal-clear facial expressions and body language. Parr gives Jen a powerful selflessness that manages to override her inner struggles until she realizes that a little selfishness is sometimes needed which allows her to voice her truth and wishes.
Delaney Jackson brings some serious depth to the role of Macy. Macy is one wounded woman. Clearly, she’s fought emotional battles all of her life due to her race and orientation and this has eroded her sense of trust and nurtured an instinctive tendency to strike first and strike hard. Jackson’s Macy has no qualms in cutting to the heart of a matter and calling things exactly as she sees them. But I also found it interesting that she, herself, is guilty of the same judging attitude that she perceives in others.
And in the center of all the chaos is Della, beautifully essayed by Kathleen Combs. Combs plays Della as the sweet Southern woman who is thrown into a tornado of confusion about baking the cake for Macy and Jen’s wedding. Interestingly, she never actually says no. Della’s whole arc is based on her wanting to do the right thing, but not knowing what is the right thing. Combs wonderfully plays up Della’s confusion and angst as her love for Jen battles her personal belief system, but this forces her to confront her darker aspects and come out with a heightened sense of tolerance.
I can’t explain it, but Sophie Knauss’ set is one of my favorites. It just had an x factor that gave the bakery a warm, homey feel while the retractable walls with the slide in beds helped transform the spacious bakery into the intimate bedrooms. The set is further bolstered by Andrew Morgan’s properties as his cakes and signs make the bakery feel so real. Erica Maholmes’ lights add even more with the warm, welcoming pink of the bakery to the colorful bouncing lights for the game show interstitials. Jocelyn Reed’s costumes suit the characters perfectly with the overalls and work shirt of Tim to the formal, business-like clothes of the serious as a heart attack Macy to the suitable to her generation dress of Della and the almost childlike, carefree clothing of the innocent Jen. John Giblisco’s sounds add that extra dash of seasoning especially the fun game show sounds in the interstitials and it’s all wrapped in a subtle, original score written by Stacey Barelos.
The Cake does provide some serious food for thought and asks a lot of hard questions with no easy answers, but its ending provides just the right cherry of hope to show that change and acceptance is possible even if people may not always see eye to eye.
The Cake runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Nov 6. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not suitable for children. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.
Photo provided by Robertson Photography