SCHENECTADY – Josephine O’Connor has realized for a while now that on occasion some very nice people don’t always agree on issues of the day, and Bekah Brunstetter, author of the 2019 play “The Cake,” obviously agrees with her.
“She writes characters that might have a different point of view than you do, but she humanizes them and you can still like them,” said O’Connor, who plays Della in the Schenectady Civic Players production of Brunstetter’s work, opening Friday and running through May 22. “My character has a pretty good heart, and her primary motivation is to make the people in her life happy. She wants us all to live in harmony.”
Based loosely on the Colorado case in which a gay couple sued a bakery owner for refusing to make their wedding cake, Brunstetter’s play opened in New York in 2019. Della, a bakery owner, is pleased to see the daughter of a close friend return to her hometown. But when the woman announces that she is gay and wants Della to make her wedding cake, Della, a conservative Christian, isn’t sure exactly how to react. Sara Paupini is directing the production, which includes David Orr as Della’s husband and Monet India Thompson and Elizabeth Sherwood Mack as the young gay couple looking for a wedding cake.
“Since my character wasn’t able to have children, she was like a surrogate mother to her friend’s daughter,” explained O’Connor. “But she never had any idea that the daughter was gay. So this is kind of a mind-blowing event for her and she doesn’t know what to do. But even though you might disagree with her, you don’t dislike her.”
A Ravena native who now lives in Glenmont, O’Connor had been involved in local theater much of her life before taking a break a little more than a decade ago to raise a family. She got back into acting in 2018, performing key roles at Albany Civic Theater in “Appropriate” and “Gingerbread Lady.”
“I took off some time because I had small children, and then in 2018 I said to myself, ‘oh my God, it’s been 10 years, I have to get back into the theater,’ ” said O’Connor. “I love acting, and I guess I do it because I can’t not do it. It’s my vocation. So I did get back into it and then COVID shut everything down.”
Now in her mid 40s and a French teacher in the Albany school district, O’Connor says she still has plenty of exciting roles to play.
“I think my character is supposed to be in her 50s, and much of the show is about her relationship with her husband,” said O’Connor. “So I’m playing a little older, but I really don’t think of myself as older, and I just don’t get very worked up about not being able to play the ingenue anymore. There are still plenty of interesting parts to play so I haven’t given getting older very much thought. I don’t view it as a problem.”
She also thoroughly enjoys the audition process.
“I love to audition and I think I can say that my batting average, if I can put it that way, is pretty good,” she said. “If I don’t get the part, I just say to myself, ‘you weren’t supposed to get it.’ I’m pretty philosophical about it. I know some actors hate auditioning and get upset about not getting a part, and I know you have to deal with rejection. There are times when I am disappointed, but if I don’t get the part, I just figure it wasn’t my part, and that leads me in another direction.”
“The Cake” is O’Connor’s first time on the Schenectady Civic Playhouse stage.
“I am so excited because this is my first time with the Schenectady Civic Players, and it’s also my first time working with Sara Paupini and these cast members,” she said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air to get back into performing, and Sara has been wonderful to work with and the cast is lovely.
While “The Cake” is O’Connor’s first experience with the Schenectady Civic Players, Orr has been on the playhouse stage on five previous occasions. He had key roles in “And Then There Were None,” “Moonlight and Magnolias,” “School for Scandal,” “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight,” and “The Time of Your Life,” all at SCP. He has also performed at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs.
Thompson and Mack are both making their SCP debuts.
Thompson, who lives in Schenectady, has appeared in several locally-produced films and has also worked with the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York and Albany’s Harbinger Theatre.
Mack, also known for her makeup work on local stages, has performed most recently at the Schenectady Light Opera Company in “In The Heights” and “The Glorious Ones.”
Paupini, a Shaker High grad and a local attorney, has been on the Schenectady Civic stage since 2005. She is directing for the first time.
Brunstetter, the playwright, set her story in a small North Carolina town. A Winston-Salem native, she went to school at the University of North Carolina and got her MFA from The New School. She has many writing credits for the stage and has also done television work, including writing for and producing the popular NBC crime drama,“This is Us.”
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through May 22; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: Call (518) 382-2081 or visit www.civicplayers.org. Proof of vaccination and masks are required