The Williamston Theater presents a play whose story is timely and remains a burning cultural issue in America. Some may call it, “ripped off the headlines”. The seed of the story comes from a trial in Colorado that happened a few years ago.
In this iteration, a successful North Carolina baker is called by her deceased best friend’s daughter to bake a cake for her upcoming wedding. What the baker soon learns is that the girl is marrying another woman, and one of a different race. Della, the baker, is forced to rethink her values, beliefs and morals.
Although it is a serious subject, it is told with great humor and warmth by playwright Bekah Brunstetter. Jasmine Rivera, the director, says, “The great thing about the play is that it’s grounded in a very real human experience.
“Brunstetter was following the trial and wanted to explore the divide between liberal and conservative. Ever since she grew up in North Carolina and knew it so well, she wanted to be placed there. It is extremely universal. The play is a meditation on love and it is making headlines.
When Rivera was asked to direct “The Cake,” she was unfamiliar with the play, but after reading it, she was eager to take on the directing duties.
The playwright knows this delicate and emotional plot well. She is a screenwriter and wrote for the NBC series, “This Is Us”.
Rivera says, “This play has a lot of heart and when I was studying it, I did a lot of analysis of the playwright’s intent – and Bekah Brunstetter really is a great writer. ‘The Cake’ is a 50/50 comedy and drama. She writes great dialogue and really keeps the audience hooked. Relationships between people are not always clean. Sometimes we cannot perceive all the nuances of each other. You can really tell the skills Brunstetter honed while writing for “This is Us.”
Growing up in Detroit, Rivera was interested in acting from an early age. “My mom had Fisher Theater subscriptions and took me to see all the great musicals of the late 80s and early 90s – ‘Cats’, ‘Phantom of The Opera’, ‘The Miz’ and all the rest.”
She became active in Mosaic Children’s Theater and later attended college at Michigan State University. Although acting has always been important to her, Rivera enrolled at MSU’s James Madison College in political science. But the theater never left her. While at MSU, she took advantage of Lansing’s theater scene and attended performances at the Boarshead Theater and other theaters.
After MSU, the young actor returned to the Mosaic Children’s Theater, but this time as a director. Soon she went to New York and turned to acting, while earning an MFA from Columbia University. Rivera is back in Detroit now and continues to work in theater and film.
“When you’re working with film, you have to be totally prepared before you shoot. There’s not a lot of time for rehearsals because everything is so tight. With one piece, we have about three weeks to work on it. , so blocking and staging details may change as rehearsals progress.
Rivera begins her work with an analysis of the play, then builds on it as the staging process continues: “You find out how the ideas of the play are expressed and you work with the actors, the producers, the manager and all the staff to realize the vision.
When the audience finally comes to the theater to see the finished product, the director’s job is done. “After the premiere, the director leaves production and the stage manager takes over to maintain quality and fix any issues that may arise.
“Directors often come back to see the last performance of the race and are usually quite surprised at how much the play has changed. Throughout the run, the actors will add more shadow and detail to their characters as they get to know them better. It’s always a surprise.
Ken Glickman covers theater and music for the Lansing State Journal and also has a blog: glickarts.blogspot.com
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
●Williamston Theater, 122 S. Putnam Street, Williamston
●“The Cake” with Julia Glander, Tobin Hissong, Alex Leydenfrost, Alexandra Traylor and Katie Terpstra.
●Until April 24. For tickets and information, 517 655 SHOW (7469), www.williamstontheatre.org