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The Cake

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One could easily walk into the world premiere play, The Cake with an expectation of seeing a legal drama. The blurbs hint at a ripped-from-the headlines story about a North Carolina baker refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding. But playwright Bekah Brunstetter has crafted a much more personal take on the issue.

Della (Debra Jo Rupp) is introduced frosting a cake while she explains her philosophy of baking. According to her, one has to follow the directions, without skimping, or rushing, or making substitutions to the ingredients. Gradually we become aware that she is speaking to Macy (Carolyn Ratteray), an out-of-town visitor to her North Carolina bakery.

Macy has an obvious distaste for small-town life and peppers Della with a barrage of snide questions and harsh comments about sugar, gluten, and her belief that Della’s baked goods may be sending her customers to an early grave. Before the tension can escalate, Jen (Shannon Lucio) enters and is reunited with Della, who was her mother’s best friend.

Jen is back in town to plan the details of her wedding to Macy. She would love to have Della make her wedding cake, but, when Della understands the nature of the wedding, she balks. Della runs her life like her kitchen, and substituting a groom for a second bride doesn’t follow her Christian recipe for marriage. She begs off with an explanation that she’s already overbooked for the wedding month. While the excuse allows her not to openly refuse Jen, the white lie will begin to gnaw at each of the women as well as Della’s husband, Tim (Joe Hart).

During the course of Brunstetter’s skillfully constructed 90-minute play, each couple will be forced to examine their respective relationships and find fixes for the cracks Jen’s visit home has exposed. If this sounds overly serious, Brunstetter’s sprightly dialog and Della’s fantasy life as a contestant on a television baking show offer plenty of laughs.

Jennifer Chambers directs a dream cast with an invisible hand that, nevertheless, highlights every emotional point without losing track of the play’s entertainment value. Scenic Designer Pete Hickok’s lavender-hued bakery perfectly embodies that carefully tended small town gem we’ve all encountered while on vacation.

Rupp’s Della is simply luminous. Warmth and sincerity envelop the audience, even while she struggles to resolve her feelings for Jen with her religious beliefs. Lucio aptly portrays Jen’s vacillating thoughts and that uncertain feeling of reverting to a child when visiting your home. Hart may have the smallest onstage role, but he sculpts a three-dimensional character with absolute clarity. Ratteray has the most difficult job, as Macy is the kind of rigidly aggressive liberal you like better at the protest march than in your living room. But she plays the role honestly and without apology. Morrison Keddie adds indispensable support as the fantasy voice of Della’s cooking show judge.

The Cake is unlikely to move people on either side of the religious divide closer together, and I don’t believe that is Brustetter’s goal. What she has achieved is a topical play with interesting characters, snappy dialog, and an absence of soapbox rants. The production has already extended and is adding more performances per week. It will see many regional theater productions.

Don’t bother with dessert before the show; you’ll be offered a slice of cake after.

Atwater Village Theatre     Through August 13     EchoTheaterCompany.com

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.