By Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Steven D. Morris
Assistant Director – Alfredo Tamayo
Technical Director – Bryan Stevenson
Stage Manager – Maria Leon Hickox
Assistant Stage Manager – Rebecca Rickey
Set Design – Kevin Brown
Lighting Design – Bryan Stevenson
Sound Design – Ryan Simón
Costume Design – Karen Potter
Properties Design – Robin Dotson
Scenic Artist – Angie Glover
Della – Shannon J. McGrann
Macy – Sasha Maya Ada
Jen – Olivia Cinquepalmi
Tim – Rodney Honeycutt
Voice/George – Thomas Magee
Reviewed Performance: 9/30/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
WARNING: This review may contain one or more of the following ingredients – puns, metaphors, and similes about cakes and other baked items, references to comedic timing and other aspects of the theatrical enterprise, talk of lesbians, same-sex marriage, cultural rigidity, reality baking shows and depictions of the recreational use of food items. This review was manufactured in the same facility where other reviews were made resulting in possible cross-contamination by and use of recycled words, phrases, and, maybe, whole sentences from previous articles. People who experience extreme discomfort reading theatre critiques or are allergic to gratuitous opinions on the part of the writer may wish to move on to another review, or, better yet, attend “The Cake,” a funny and heartfelt play running through October 16th at Theatre Arlington, and make up your own mind about it.
Now that I have done my legal obligation, let us cut ourselves a slice of this confection and see what director Steven D. Morris and his cast have baked up for us. (I warned you this kind of writing was coming). Bekah Brunstetter’s script introduces us to Della (Shannon J. McGrann), the owner of a small bakery in North Carolina and a cake maker extraordinaire, who is slated to be on the reality show The Great American Bake Off. She is being interviewed by Macy (Sasha Maya Ada), an out-of-towner with a private reason for this semi-friendly interrogation. Into the shop bursts Jen (Olivia Cinquepalmi), the young woman Della helped raise and loves like the child she never had. Excitedly Jen tells Della that she has come from New York back to her hometown to get married to fulfill the promise she made her late mother, and she wants Della to make the wedding cake, and her future spouse is Macy, the woman interviewer.
Della’s world is rocked, forcing her to re-examine all she holds dear. Can she make a cake for someone she loves who is doing something she feels is morally wrong? What will her opinionated husband Tim (Rodney Honeycutt) say? How about Della’s feelings about her own marriage and her desire for affection and intimacy that bubble to the surface when she sees how in love and happy Jen and Macy are? The struggles within her conscience manifest in fantasy sequences with Della finding herself at The Great American Bake-Off, being berated by the disembodied voice of George (Thomas Magee), the acerbic British judge of the show. Those segments are among the funniest and most emotionally poignant moments of the show.
Essentially, this is a show about love, with all of its unpredictability and promise of comfort. It struggles, as Della does, with what happens when who we love runs up against others’ pre-conceived notions of what is right and wrong, and the ways life should be lived. And while all is not perfectly resolved at the end of the play, it provides the possibility that love, hopefully over a piece of pink lemonade cake, may, over time and with much work, win the day.
Staged on a wonderful set designed by Kevin Brown, we find ourselves in Della’s bakery, complete with checkered cloth tables and examples of Della’s handiwork (The Noah’s Ark cake is especially cute), which then spins around to reveal the bedrooms of the two couples. It makes for a very personal feel to the story unfolding before us. Bryan Stevenson’s lighting design ably fills the space and is especially fun during Della’s moments of fantasy. The costumes designed by Karen Potter give the right feel for the part of the United States the play is set in.
Maybe because I saw the show on opening night, the internal pacing seemed a bit slow. Also, I am a bit hard of hearing and there were moments, particularly in the first act, where I was having trouble understanding what was being said, which was exacerbated by the appreciative and appropriate laughter erupting all around me. Vocal projection on the part of all the onstage cast would be helpful for an old man like me. There was also a tendency for some actors to block themselves by standing profile instead of presenting three-quarters the way the young actor in me had it pounded into him years ago. These are small things that will more than likely resolve themselves with repeated performances.
Director Steven D. Morris has assembled a fine cast and has led them through the comedic and dramatic arcs of the story with skill. Shannon J. McGrann is a spectacular Della. Having done the role previously for Uptown Players in Dallas, Ms. McGrann knows Della inside and out. She shows the confidence of a woman who knows how skillful she is as a baker. But as Della’s bravado gives way to self-doubt about her long-held convictions and she begins to long for the love and physical intimacy that she finds missing in her own marriage, Ms. McGrann breaks your heart. Her Della is a fully fleshed-out person, with a spine of steel and a big heart earnestly trying to open up to everyone. She does an excellent job.
Sasha Maya Ada gives a prickly edge to the character of Macy. Using her intellect both as a shield to protect herself and a bludgeon to keep others away, Macy finds herself blindsided by the love she feels for Jen. Sasha May Ada does a wonderful job of showing Macy’s armor cracking open just enough to accept love and comfort, not only from her fiancée but also from the most unexpected places. As Jen, Olivia Cinquepalmi bubbles with the excitement and vulnerability of a young woman completely in the thrall of true love. The character also proves that you can go back home to your small town after having made a life for yourself in the city, and they will still call you Jenny. The character experiences the guilt of your choices not conforming to your background, and Ms. Cinquepalmi artfully shows the turmoil and confusion that can cause.
If you ever need someone who personifies the label ‘Salt of the Earth,’ Rodney Honeycutt is your man. His portrayal of Tim is natural and believable. Tim’s feeling that he should have the last word in his marriage with Della covers up the insecurity that has dogged him for years. Mr. Honeycutt makes the character’s attempts to patch things up with Della heart-warming and also features the most unique use of mashed potatoes I have ever encountered. Thomas Magee gives the appropriate amount of gruffness as the voice of George. There is something about the way that he says the word ‘trollop’ that appeals to me in an odd way (That may say something about me that we can’t go into here). And the way Della responds to that voice is marvelous.
So, if you have totally ignored the above warning and decided to attend Theatre Arlington’s production of “The Cake,” and I sincerely hope you did, please let me know if you enjoyed it. Possibly, like my wife and me, you will leave craving a piece of pink lemonade cake. And maybe, just maybe, you may feel the hope that all people, regardless of what they believe or whom they marry, can come together in love and peace, even in tiny ways, over a tasty slice of cake.
September 30 – October 16, 2022
Thursday – Saturday – 7:30 PM, Sunday – 2:00 PM
316 W. Main St., Arlington, TX 76010
For Tickets and more information call the box office, open Tuesday – Friday 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM, at 817-275-7661 or visit on the Web at www.theatrearlington.org