Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Cakewalk" by Colleen Curran - Through March 19th

"Cakewalk" by Colleen Curran is a very curious choice for David Miller's Zeitgeist Stage Company.  In recent year's, I have come to expect bold and jarring productions of plays that explore the history or current state of the LGBT communities' struggles.  In contradistinction to such plays as "The Submission," "Bent" and "The Normal Heart," "Cakewalk" seems like a very light confection.  In many previous Zeitgeist productions, there have been conflicted characters challenged with the need to come out of the closet.  In the case of "Cakewalk," several characters are locked in an actual closet.

The closest that this play comes to touching substantive issues of sexuality is the plotline that involves a nun, Sister Vivien Leigh Cleary (Victoria George) finding herself attracted to the deliciously nerdy and absentminded archeologist, Taylor Abbott (Matt Fagerberg), who is the only male contestant in this very traditional New England 4th of July celebration in a sleepy Vermont town.  In other words, this reluctant religious really digs the young archeologist. In introducing the character of Taylor, whom everyone assumes must be a judge - because only women enter the Cakewalk - the play also very lightly touches on the issue of sexual stereotyping.  But it does so in a manner that is as airy as a slice of Angel food cake.  Ms. George and Mr. Fagerberg bring believable chemistry to their quirky roles. Maureen Adduci plays Augusta Connors Hancock, a long suffering wife and mother of a certain age who longs to establish her own identity by winning the Cakewalk.  She risks ruining what is left of her half-baked relationship with her ditsy tennis-playing daughter, Tiffany (Ashley Risteen), by submitting for the contest the outrageously over-the-top wedding cake she has prepared for Tiffany's wedding, scheduled for the day after the 4th.  Ms. Adduci is appropriately high strung, and Ms. Risteen is a dynamo of anger and angst in form-flattering tennis whites.  Ruby Abel (Kelley Estes) is married to the town's over-zealous tow truck driver, and she and her husband conspire to ruin the chances of every other Cakewalk contestant.  In her Cub Scout Den Mother Uniform and with her less than legal cake, the character is about as one-dimensional as one can find on stage.  Ms. Estes does her best, but the writing of this character lacks any semblance of nuance, and she is a cartoon from beginning to end.  The most nuanced character that the playwright has written is Martha Britch (Aina Adler), the hippy-esque owner of the local cafe.  She is best friends with the troubled nun, having grown up and gone to school together.  Martha undergoes several mood changes as she bemoans the loud ticking of her biological clock, longing for there to be something more than a cake in her oven.  Ms. Adler demonstrates a broad range of emotions as she brings together this interesting and relatable character.

Matt Fagerberg as Taylor Abbott
Victoria George as Vivien Leigh Cleary
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Through March 19th

The most likely explanation of the addition of this play to the Zeitgeist season is that David Miller and playwright Colleen Curran first collaborated together in 1980 in a production of "Man of La Mancha" in Vermont.  Mr. Miller directs and designed the set, a down-at-the-heels inn, replete with scorch marks above the stove and stains from a leaky roof.  Lighting is by Michael Clark Wonson, Costumes by Jess Huang and Sound by J. Jumbelic.

If you come to see "Cakewalk," have a substantial dinner before the theater, for this bill of fare is strictly light desert.  It will play at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box through March 19.

Zeitgeist Stage website



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