Debra Jo Rupp's performance as a baker is the icing...

Debra Jo Rupp's performance as a baker is the icing on "The Cake." Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT "The Cake"

WHERE New York City Center, Stage I, 131 W. 55th St.

INFO $89; 212-581-1212,

BOTTOM LINE A human look at a highly politicized issue.

For Della, baking a cake is an activity both powerful and spiritual — somewhere between “pulling the sword from the stone” and the “second coming,” as the script for "The Cake," at Manhattan Theatre Club describes it.

In this very human look at a very politicized issue, Bekah Brunstetter, the writer and co-producer of everyone’s favorite TV weepie "This Is Us," makes little attempt to sway opinion. Instead she goes to great (though occasionally ponderous) lengths to suggest it might be wise to consider this issue — and many like it — from multiple points of view. 

We meet Della (Debra Jo Rupp) lost in her own intense reverie, dreaming big about her upcoming appearance on a televised baking competition. She snaps back to reality when Macy (Marinda Anderson), a feisty young African-American woman with lots of questions, enters her North Carolina bakery, her purpose far from clear. She’s quickly joined by Jen (Genevieve Angelson), the daughter of Della's late best friend. Jen moved to Brooklyn but is back to plan a hometown wedding because that’s what her mother would have wanted. Naturally, she wants Della to do the cake.

In the timely, ripped-from-the-headlines story, learning that there will be two brides at this wedding throws Della into a moral and emotional upheaval that threatens her religious beliefs, her marriage to the steadfast but stuck to his principles Tim (Dan Daily) and, the lowest blow, her appearance on the baking show. 

Though the play, staged by MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow, is a brisk 90 minutes, it bogs down at times with tedious, been there, done that arguments on both sides. And for some reason senior sex moments are more uncomfortable than funny.

It's Rupp, the star of the show since it debuted in Los Angeles in 2017, who gives the production a reason for being. She’s the Energizer Bunny of baking, a delight as she flits about the gem of a bake shop (set by John Lee Beatty), softly speaking her own personal gospel about the importance of always following the directions. In the kitchen? In life? No matter, it's a beautifully nuanced, layered portrait of a woman in conflict with her own beliefs. 

What’s so obvious by the end is her clear desire to bake that darn cake. It’s likely she speaks what many of us have felt on occasion when she makes this poignant admission: "I got a brain and a heart at war."       

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