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by Steve Desroches

After 16 months of no live performances the Provincetown Theater delights with their first full production run featuring playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s culture war comedy with a heart, The Cake. The pandemic obviously produced anxiety on a variety of levels, including the uncertain future for the arts with stages dark all over the world. But the Provincetown Theater’s ability to adapt proves that under the leadership of artistic director David Drake and the board of directors it is in capable and dynamic hands. Shifting to outdoor performances the Provincetown Theater provides a comfortable summer venue of compelling theatrical work, with The Cake being the perfect story for a July run. Funny and tender-hearted, engaging yet light, The Cake is delicious from start to finish.

Photo: David Chick

Set in current day North Carolina, Della is living her dream operating her own bakery and is on the cusp of reality TV competition fame as she’s soon to appear on The Great American Baking Show. At first a welcome surprise, but then causing internal turmoil, Jen, who’s like a daughter to Della, returns home after many years in New York City with good news; she’s getting married. But her fiancée is a woman, which throws Della into a crisis of faith as she revisits deeply held beliefs that she considers to be a faith in God, while others think her a bigot as she wrestles with whether or not to bake the cake for her dear, late friend’s daughter’s wedding. It also causes her to reexamine her own marriage to her plumber husband Tim, which is childless, but loving, yet stale.

Photo: David Chick

The performances by Jennifer Cabral and Ian Leahy as Della and Tim are nothing short of stellar. A married couple in real life, Cabral and Leahy give full life to their characters never relying on cheap stereotypes of southerners or Christians, but creating people who are challenging yet not villains or monsters. They, and especially Cabral’s performance, provide the most important ingredient to The Cake: empathy.  While Leahy has an extensive background in theater this really marks only Cabral’s second time on stage after 2019’s August: Osage County. As a duo and as individual actors they are stars, plain and simple.

Photo: David Chick

Jackie Marino-Thomas and Vanessa Rose, as the young and in love Macy and Jen, give performances that equally challenge, skating between being bright and focused on changing the world and at the same time revealing a rigidity that itself can be as sanctimonious as the people they criticize, or in Macy’s case, not exhibiting much self-awareness. It makes for a sweet tango for the four characters with the voice over of George, the host of The Great American Baking Show, provided by Fred Jodry as an otherworldly Greek chorus challenging the sugar and spice views of Della in an increasingly gluten-free world. As director of The Cake, Drake brings this story to life, pulling top-notch performances from all in this tight 90- minute show. And if there was another character in this play it’s the set by designer Ellen Rousseau, who consistently wows audiences with her creations. Make sure to take a slice out of this fabulous theatrical confection.

The Cake runs at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m. until July 22. Tickets ($40/$50) are available at the box office and online at provincetowntheater.org. For more information call 508.487.7487.