If you go one town over, you find yourself in the sweet little town of Rosendale, NY. The downtown is tiny and lovely, with stores and eateries that are inventive, artful and have a community feel. In the middle of the downtown stretch, you will find the Rosendale Theatre, the red building with a light-up marquee that holds court in the center of the block. The theater is sandwiched between a Middle Eastern restaurant called The Big Cheese and a vintage/ravewear shop called Soiled Doves. If you happened to have made the trip into Rosendale already, I’d suggest making the most of your gas money and checking out those two spots as well.
The theater dates back to 1905, when it opened as a casino with a stage for burlesque performances. Over the decades, it’s had many lives, but has always served as a community hub in some fashion or another. Its most recent life as a movie and live performance venue was shaped largely by the Cacchio family in 1949. Until his passing in 2020, Anthony Cacchio Sr., the owner who purchased it in 1949, continued to be the one to turn the projectors on his beloved community movie house. The theater is now run and upkept by the Rosendale Theatre Collective, who continue to make this space the community soiree that it has always been.
In today’s iteration of the theatre, it’s more of a community space than just a strictly-theater of establishment. At the Rosendale Theatre, there is a mix of events weekly ranging from movie or film screenings and live theater to local author talks, drum circles, live concerts, tap dancing classes and dance performances. The theatre tends to show independent films over big-box films, which is a stylistic choice but a financially-impacted design as well. The theater also holds live performances by local directors and actors. But there is still opportunity to see live theater even in between their in-house shows! Every Sunday, National Theatre Live brings a livestream of an acclaimed play being performed on some stage somewhere to the projector screen of the Rosendale Theatre. Tickets are $12-15 for these screenings, with the last one held on March 26; “Kinky Boots” took the screen from a performance all the way in London.
The theater’s most recent live performance was a week-long run of “The Cake,” written by Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Ann Citron. This past Saturday evening, I decided to take myself out to the theater and check it out. Not only was this my first time in a non-school-related theater in years, it was also my first time ever stepping foot into the Rosendale Theatre.
As soon as I walked inside, I realized that I’d been unintentionally sleeping on possibly the most awesome local entertainment venue. It was old, it was quaint, it was clearly a community putting this event together, there was an old ticket booth, a concession stand, red carpeting and even wine — even locally brewed beers, which I got a can of along with some Sour Patch Kids. I’ve never been allowed to have a can of beer in a movie theater before. It was pretty great.
At about 75% capacity, It seemed the community had come out for the show. The set was super simple, because of the small stage they were working with, but I was so impressed with the way they moved around the same few set pieces to create a full, dynamic feeling. The troupe had managed to work within their bounds in a way that didn’t give the feeling of things being left out or skimped on, which I think is impressive. The lighting and sound felt modern and professional as well.
The online synopsis of the play I had come to see had presented a seemingly charming and light hearted approach to a fiery national debate. It centered around a baker filled with “oh-bless-your-heart” southern cheer. In the shows original run by the Mannahattan Theatre Players the role was performed by Debra Jo Rupp, “That 70s Show’s” Kitty Forman, to give you an idea of the energy of “The Cake’s” protagonist. Asked to bake a wedding cake for the daughter of her late best friend, there is only one hitch: she’s engaged to a woman. We see our protagonist, Della, struggle with the request as it conflicts with what she holds as her Christian values, which are suddenly at odds with the people she loves and the things she wants. While the care the playwright is clearly attempting to make us feel for Della can at times come across as ingratiating, the end result manages to be one of dexterous, warm and human navigation on a hard but realistic subject.
The show started off with the lights going dim and Matisyahu’s “One Day” playing in full. The whole cast was just five people, and those five actors gave it their all. They delivered their parts great, and made the audience laugh out loud every few minutes. One thing that I loved was how it was clear that the actors were a part of the community. After the show ended and the minutes-long applause died down, the cast was hanging out with the mingling crowd, chatting and getting congratulated by their friends.
After the show, everyone was given a little cupcake in the lobby as they left because the show was about cake! My cupcake was red velvet and it was so delicious. I left the theater and stepped onto the dark, misty Main Street, cutting between the groups of people who were milling around the entrance. It was an absolutely heartwarming evening at a small, local community theater with a lot of history. If you have the chance, do yourself a favor and get over to the Rosendale Theatre one of these nights.
Their calendar of events can be found online at rosendaletheatre.org/calendar.