The Cake

For her work as a writer on the NBC dramedy “This is us,” Carolina alumna Bekah Brunstetter mixes heartfelt moments with hilarious ones. That’s the way she prefers to write, the style that comes natural to her.

“It’s just so satisfying to have your own ideas and your own dialogue kind of fit right into what this thing is about and already trying to be,” said Brunstetter, who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2004 with a bachelor’s in theater.

Brunstetter brings that same mixture of tragic moments with comical ones, poignant moments with jovial ones in her latest work, “The Cake,” which debuted last week at PlayMakers Repertory Company and will run through Oct. 1. The play is about a North Carolina baker who tries to figure out how her faith and her love for family can coexist after she is asked to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding.

“It’s about something incredibly serious,” she said, “but I wanted to talk about it in a way that was really human, warm, hopeful and friendly.”

Brunstetter discovered and developed her craft for combining reality with flights of fancy on the stage as a theater major and creative writing minor at Carolina. She wrote weekly in her poetry and fiction writing classes, and professors challenged her to be more truthful and authentic in her writing.

She also started writing plays that were produced by student groups on campus.

“To see your play staged and watch it with an audience — to see what was indulgent or what was funny or what was confusing — and learn from that experience definitely helped me figure out how to use my voice as a playwright,” she said.

“The Cake” brings together Brustetter and her good friend and former classmate Jeffrey Meanza, who signed on to direct the play at PlayMakers.

“When I finished reading it, I thought, ‘I have to do this.’ It was incredibly moving when it was just words on a page. Imagine how it will be with actors bringing it to life,” said Meanza, who graduated from Carolina in 2004 with a master’s in fine arts.

The play is the first project they have worked on together.

“It’s the perfect match for this play,” Brunstetter said. “As soon as PlayMakers recommended him, I was like, ‘Oh, of course!’”

Working with a close friend comes with its own unique challenges.

“As a director, you always feel a professional and even an emotional responsibility to honor and elevate the work,” Meanza said, “but when it’s your friend’s words, you feel it even more.”

Both are thrilled PlayMakers chose to present “The Cake.”

“Any opportunity to come back is an incredible pleasure,” said Meanza, who credits PlayMakers as the place he grew up at as an artist. “I love it here.”

“I’ve been wanting to have a play there since I graduated,” Brunstetter said. “But you have to wait for the timing to be right.”

Story by Will Rimer, University Communications. Photos courtesy of PlayMakers Repertory Company.
Published Sept. 19, 2017