“The Cake” is Simply Scrumptious at SCP

“The Cake,” the long-awaited directorial debut of Sara Paupini is deliciously sweet. Schenectady Civic Players’ production of Bekah Brunstetter’s play – originally workshopped in Great Barrington – is chock full of morsels to make you think, feel, and laugh out loud. What more to look for in a theatrical production?

The cast of “The Cake” / Schenectady Civic Players

The audience is introduced to Della of Della’s Sweets in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who cares about nothing more than baking and the infallible rules that making treats rely on for success. This goes hand-in-hand with her attitude towards a world that seemingly and disappointedly “keeps changing” – despite her stagnant business.. and rather one-note husband; a career plumber who doesn’t seem interested in too much other than work. Della’s ordinary life and perceived ordinary thoughts are challenged by the return of her best friend’s daughter Jen (who Della can’t fathom calling Jen instead of Jenny throughout the course of the play), and Jen’s fiancée Macy. The women want Della to make their wedding cake, but Della wants to understand why Jen no longer is interested in being with a man.

Three SCP debuts here make for a wonderful evening of fine acting. Monet Thompson and Elizabeth Sherwood Mack are delightful together as Macy and Jen respectively. Their partnership is bubbly and brimming over with consideration for the other. Their relationship very clearly motivates all of their action, especially when both Jen and Macy speak with Josephine O’Connor’s Della alone. Those argumentative moments brush intensity as conversation and sentiment surrounding the cake conundrum are still somehow timely in 2022.

Sherwood Mack’s nervy Jen peaks in a stunning monologue about Jen’s fears regarding sex. Although shared over lunch and rather colloquially, the material is heavy and Sherwood Mack does a great job of lifting. This is a situation where delivery is imperative and it feels so natural with Sherwood Mack. I love this moment between her and O’Connor. The audience can sense some type of an intersection between the two women through this fear, as hairline-fracture-fine as that intersection might be.

David Orr is a treat as Della’s husband, Tim. Tim is written by Brunstetter in a way that makes him feel somewhat unreal – a little farcical. Orr finds all of the humanity he can in the character. Tim makes a comical suggestion towards Della late in the play that I imagine would have been a little less funny with another actor. Sometimes a performance can just be enjoyable as Orr’s definitely was. He was great in the role.

The cherry on top – I guess I’ve lost the cake analogies now – is O’Connor’s Della. She flitters around the layered set with ease and projects her character’s uncertainty with easy force. The audience can tell that Della isn’t a villain per se, but someone with a genuine lack of understanding and an obligation to her husband. We all know a version of O’Connor’s Della. The almost fantastical moments where Della steps away from her counter to prepare for competition on the Great American Bake Off are sensational. Comical and snappy. Every moment there landed. O’Connor did great work in making sure that both parts of her story – her marriage with Tim and friendship with Jen – had equal weight and stakes. I loved being invested in a comedy the way I was here.

In the end, “The Cake” is a sweet little – almost uplifting – play for a world that tastes more sour by the day. As Thompson’s Macy says, the world is inherently political. This show is a good way to broach political conversation with people who might believe otherwise. Paupini has done a wonderful job working with four stellar actors to bring gravitas to a cheeky script.

“The Cake” is not one to miss.

“The Cake” runs through May 22nd at Schenectady Civic Players. Tickets can be purchased here.

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