It’s been sixteen months since we experienced live theatre here in Provincetown…. And, frankly, THE CAKE at the Provincetown Theater was worth waiting for.
First, the venue. David Drake and Ellen Rousseau have come up with the most remarkable set imaginable; this “theater in the parking lot” truly feels like theater in the park, with soft Astroturf, pots of flowers and plants, fantastic lighting, even down to the smallest details… this set is absolutely perfect.
And the play is wonderful. The story’s utter predictability doesn’t mar strong performances from all the actors, though it has to be said that Jennifer Cabral owns the stage anytime she steps onto it. As bakery owner Della, she treats audiences to a fun opening monologue, detailing her upcoming participation in the “Great American Bake-Off,” admitting her love of sweets (“cut me open I’m full of jelly beans”), and, oh yes, making it clear that following directions is what life is, ultimately, all about.
She’s thrilled to be asked to do a wedding cake for her late best friend’s daughter, but finds herself challenged in a whole number of ways when she learns that the daughter, Jen (played by Vanessa Rose), is marrying another woman, Macy (Jackie Marino-Thomas). Della’s own husband, Tim (played by Cabral’s real-life husband Ian Leahy) finds questions seeping into his marriage as well, as both couples contemplate the meaning of human relationships.
They do it, though, with enough humor to keep audiences laughing nonstop. Della confesses that eating gluten-free food “felt like the back of my throat after a good cry.” Tim wonders when the last time the couple had ever slept apart and his wife answers, “Before we met.” (He tries in turn to spice up their sex life with mashed potatoes. Don’t ask.)
And while Cabral steals the show, every actor turns in stellar performances. (Almost as if they’ve been waiting for this for… um… sixteen months!)
Of course, playwright Bekah Brunstetter can’t resist underlining the obvious. When Jen and Macy are talking about meaning, Macy finally bursts out with, “Nothing fits! That’s why I try to find people that fit!” And when Jen ponders what it has meant to her to come home, she concludes, “It’s my inheritance. It’s shame.” Revelations, sure, but they felt a little forced. Still, Brunstetter more than makes up for these lapses with witty dialogue, bold characters, and a story that answers some—but, importantly, not all—questions.
One rather creepy and somewhat heavy-handed component is the increasingly judgmental voice of George (Fred Jodry), the producer of the Great American Bake-Off, whose voice-from-Olympus addresses of Della become increasingly irritated and irritating—one can’t help but wonder how much of Paul Hollywood crept into this characterization—condemning her first for her recipes and later for her bigotry. It’s unfortunate but does not end up marring the piece. THE CAKE is overall fun, delivering reflection as well as confection, and just the tonic for a town starved for theatre!
Director David Drake and his company have done a tremendous job of handling the movement from indoor to outdoor theater without missing a beat, and when one performance was rained out, everyone took the interruption philosophically—and with hearty servings of Scottcake cupcakes!
So live a little. Breathe the air. Watch the monarch butterflies around you as you wait for the show to begin. Theatre is back in the house!