Review: The Cake (Rivendell Theatre)

| April 22, 2018

Tara Mallen stars as Della in The Cake, Rivendell Theatre             

The Cake

Written by Bekah Brunstetter
Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge (map)
thru June 2  |  tix: $28-$38  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

Now extended thru June 2nd!


Touching and timely master work


Krystel McNeil and Tuckie White star as Macy and Jen in The Cake, Rivendell Theatre Company

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents
The Cake

Review by Lauren Whalen

Some plays hit you right where you live. The Cake is about, well, a wedding cake, but it’s also about the pull between two worlds: the home you make as an adult, and the place you were born, and the everlasting effects of the latter, for better and for worse. Written by Bekah Brunstetter, a producer and writer on the wildly popular NBC family drama “This Is Us,” the Midwest premiere is inspired by a real-life controversy, but dives deep into the Tara Mallen and Keith Kupferer star as Della and Tim in The Cake at Rivendell Theatreheart of the matter in ways that court documents and news articles cannot. Thoughtfully directed by Lauren Shouse with a terrific four-person cast, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble’s latest is funny, complex and believable in a way that many ripped-from-the-headlines dramedies aren’t.

Della (Rivendell co-founder Tara Mallen) is proud of her faith, her small North Carolina hometown, and most of all, her cakes. She and plumber husband Tim (Keith Kupferer, Mallen’s real-life husband and Rivendell co-founder) were never able to have children, so Della put all of her energy into her baking and her late best friend’s daughter Jen (Tuckie White) who has since moved away to New York. Weeks before Della is set to realize her dream – a coveted spot on “The Great American Baking Show” – Jen returns with a special favor to ask. Will Della make her wedding cake? The catch: Jen is marrying Macy (Krystel McNeil). Her beliefs shaken to the core, Della struggles with the little girl she knew, now in a committed relationship with another woman. The Bible says it’s wrong, right? But Jen looks so happy.

Krystel McNeil and Tuckie White star as Macy and Jen in The Cake, Rivendell TheatreKrystel McNeil stars as Macy in The Cake at Rivendell Theatre Tuckie White stars as Jen in The Cake, Rivendell TheatreTara Mallen stars as Della in The Cake, Rivendell TheatreKrystel McNeil and Tuckie White star as Macy and Jen in The Cake at Rivendell Theatre

I’m not planning a lesbian wedding, but throughout The Cake, I found myself identifying heavily with Jen. Like her, I moved to the city and am comfortable in a more diverse environment – but in many ways, the small-town Catholic girl remains, and bristles when friends and peers lump less educated and more religious individuals into the “stupid, ignorant redneck” category. Sometimes that’s true, but most of the time, those who laugh are talking about living, breathing humans. Playwright Brunstetter touches on the gray area that affects so many: the population who would never be violent or even impolite to someone different from them, but who aren’t welcoming outsiders with open arms. Della often butts heads with Macy, a queer woman of color who grew up with a therapist mother and never felt like she fully belonged anywhere, until she met Jen. Della and Macy both love the same woman in different ways, but is that enough for them to understand one another?

Making every character sympathetic is a difficult, delicate balance, and Brunstetter passes this test with flying colors. Director Shouse stages The Cake with an effortlessness that belies the thought and work behind every choice. Arnel Sancianco’s scenic design is brilliant, recalling a sweet, twee bakery with a religious sign smack in the center, and “cake choreographer” Erin Martin (of ECBG Cake Studio) gives the play accurate, and crave-worthy, detail. The performances are beautiful and nuanced, particularly Mallen’s good ole Southern woman who’s forced to look within, and White’s sweet Southern girl turned queer city woman, who’s still dealing with the death of her mother and the strict, people-pleasing legacy she left behind. It’s impossible to fully articulate the importance of plays like The Cake, that intelligently explore the fine line between tolerance and discrimination. The Cake must be experienced to be believed, in all its sweet-smelling, complex glory.

Rating: ★★★★

The Cake continues through May 20th June 2nd at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge (map), with performances Thursdays-Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 3pm (May 6 and May 20 only).  Tickets are $38 (students, seniors, military, veterans: $28), and are available by phone (773-334-7728) or through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Krystel McNeil, Tuckie White and Tara Mallen star in The Cake, Rivendell Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow




Tara Mallen (Della), Keith Kupferer (Tim), Krystal McNeil (Macy), Tuckie White (Jen)

Understudies: Sean Sinitski, Mierka Girten, Claire Alpern, Kyla Norton, Philena Gilmer

behind the scenes

Lauren Shouse (director), Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Janice Pytel (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Shannon Marie O’Neill (sound design), Danielle Myerscough (properties design), Jennifer Thusing (stage manager), Erin Martin (cake choreographer), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Tara Mallen and Keith Kupferer star as Della and Tim in The Cake, Rivendell TheatreKrystel McNeil stars as Macy in The Cake, Rivendell Theatre


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Extensions-Remounts, Lauren Emily Whalen, Rivendell Theatre

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