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‘The Cake’ at the Rep couldn’t be timelier — but if you want a taste, you don’t have much time
Theater review

‘The Cake’ at the Rep couldn’t be timelier — but if you want a taste, you don’t have much time

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The Cake

Denny Dillon (left) and Rigel Harris in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of "The Cake" 

“The Cake,” an engaging but predictable comedy-drama onstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, boasts a ripped-from-the-headlines premise. The show opened Friday in the Studio Theatre and will run through Sunday. Citing concern over the coronavirus, the Rep has canceled all performances and events beginning Monday through the end of the season. (The Rep’s production of “Dreaming Zenzile,” which was to have closed the season, is tentatively scheduled to have its world premiere this summer.) In “The Cake,” Della (Denny Dillon), a small-town baker, cherishes her goddaughter, Jen (Rigel Harris). So she’s delighted at the news that the woman she watched grow up is getting married and volunteers to bake the wedding cake. But Della’s enthusiasm melts when Jen reveals that her betrothed is a woman. Suddenly, the baker, who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds, claims that due to her busy schedule she has to renege on the offer. That doesn’t go over well with Jen’s fiancée, Macy (Dria Brown), a journalist who posts online about Della’s decision, branding her a bigot. Playwright Bekah Brunstetter, perhaps best known for her work on the television series “This Is Us,” traces Della’s arc from ignorance to enlightenment with smart humor. And director Sara Bruner stays far afield from sitcom territory, boldly embracing the script’s forays into the risqué.

Yet how it all plays out is a bit underwhelming. Brunstetter seems hesitant to explore Della’s homophobia in more than a superficial way. And a subplot involving Della’s husband, Tim (Carl Palmer), while entertaining in its own right, has trouble justifying itself. The cast, however, is excellent. Dillon, who was a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in the 1980s, portrays Della as more naïve than malevolent. Seldom has intolerance been so adorable. Harris strikes a balance between introspection and vulnerability that’s just right for Jen. And Brown brings deft comic timing to Macy. Their scenes together are beautifully performed and lend the play a welcome gravitas. It’s all too likely that “The Cake” will mostly be seen by people who don’t need to see it. And that’s unfortunate. Its theme of overcoming prejudice, and thereby undergoing the kind of change that allows for becoming your best self, couldn’t be timelier.

“The Cake,” an engaging but predictable comedy-drama onstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, boasts a ripped-from-the-headlines premise.

The show opened Friday in the Studio Theatre and will run through Sunday. Citing concern over the coronavirus, the Rep has canceled all performances and events beginning Monday through the end of the season. (The Rep’s production of “Dreaming Zenzile,” which was to have closed the season, is tentatively scheduled to have its world premiere this summer.)

In “The Cake,” Della (Denny Dillon), a small-town baker, cherishes her goddaughter, Jen (Rigel Harris). So she’s delighted at the news that the woman she watched grow up is getting married and volunteers to bake the wedding cake.

But Della’s enthusiasm melts when Jen reveals that her betrothed is a woman. Suddenly, the baker, who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds, claims that due to her busy schedule she has to renege on the offer. That doesn’t go over well with Jen’s fiancée, Macy (Dria Brown), a journalist who posts online about Della’s decision, branding her a bigot.

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter, perhaps best known for her work on the television series “This Is Us,” traces Della’s arc from ignorance to enlightenment with smart humor. And director Sara Bruner stays far afield from sitcom territory, boldly embracing the script’s forays into the risqué.

Yet how it all plays out is a bit underwhelming. Brunstetter seems hesitant to explore Della’s homophobia in more than a superficial way. And a subplot involving Della’s husband, Tim (Carl Palmer), while entertaining in its own right, has trouble justifying itself.

The cast, however, is excellent. Dillon, who was a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in the 1980s, portrays Della as more naïve than malevolent. Seldom has intolerance been so adorable.

Harris strikes a balance between introspection and vulnerability that’s just right for Jen. And Brown brings deft comic timing to Macy. Their scenes together are beautifully performed and lend the play a welcome gravitas.

It’s all too likely that “The Cake” will mostly be seen by people who don’t need to see it. And that’s unfortunate. Its theme of overcoming prejudice, and thereby undergoing the kind of change that allows for becoming your best self, couldn’t be timelier.

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