Cake has been a constant throughout Bekah Brunstetter’s life. The playwright and screenwriter for NBC’s hit dramedy This Is Us comes from a conservative Southern background and, like many, has come to question some of the beliefs she was raised with. However, she’s keenly aware that some things will always transcend politics.
Family, for one. Frosting, for another.
Cakes “are how I connect with my mom,” says the native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “My mom and I are incredibly different, yet very similar, people. One thing we do together is make cakes together for every holiday.”
Baking is also the taproot of Brunstetter’s new play at the Alley, The Cake. Della, the main character, is a woman of great faith and certain deeply rooted, controversial principles. Owner of a small-town bakery, she’s also about to be a contestant on The Great American Baking Show (Brunstetter’s love of baking extends to her TV habits, she confesses).
The plot kicks into gear when Jen, daughter of Della’s late best friend, asks Della to bake her wedding cake—and then drops the bombshell that this marriage will have two brides, something that goes against pretty much everything Della stands for.
The challenge for Brunstetter, she says, was making Della likable in spite of the character’s beliefs, which are apt to make many audience members recoil the way Macy, Jen’s hippie-raised Northeastern liberal fiancée, does. (Tim, Della’s stand-up good-ol’-boy husband, rounds out the characters.) Fortunately, the playwright had a lifetime of experience to draw on.
“I approach [Della] like she’s my family, and I love and respect her but sometimes she’s ridiculous,” says Brunstetter. “I think just because I’ve had so many people in my life with her values, who I think are incredibly intelligent and incredibly loving, all I can do is embrace that dichotomy because I’ve witnessed it and lived with it for so long.”
Brunstetter started working on the play even before the issue of same-sex wedding cakes reached the U.S. Supreme Court, she explains. One weekend last fall, she flew in from L.A. to meet her parents at a production of the new work put on by Playmakers, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s resident company. (Julia Gibson, who starred as Della, reprises the role at the Alley.)
Her folks found it difficult to watch, admits Brunstetter, but never withdrew their support.
“The fact that they’re able to love and support me while I’m working on this play even though it’s uncomfortable for them,” she says, “is just another reminder to me that I should be writing the play in the first place.”
The Cake, June 1-July 1. From $35. 615 Texas Ave. 713-220-5700. alleytheatre.org