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Faith and Family Collide in Bekah Brunstetter’s Ripped-from-the-Headlines Drama The Cake

<em>The Cake</em> stars Christine Mirzayan (left) as Macy and Julia Gibson as Della (photo by HuthPhoto)

The Cake stars Christine Mirzayan (left) as Macy and Julia Gibson as Della (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will kick off its 2017-18 mainstage season with the regional premiere of The Cake, written by Los Angeles, CA playwright Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Minneapolis, MN director Jeffrey Meanza, on Sept. 13-17, 19-22, and 24 and Sept. 26-Oct. 1 on the thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s newly renamed Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art. UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence will preview this show, which PRC “recommend[s] for audiences 16 and older,” on Sept. 13-15, and officially open it on Sept. 16th.

Both Brunstetter and Meanza have strong UNC ties. Brunstetter is a Winston-Salem, NC native and Carolina alumna, and Meanza is a UNC alumnus and PlayMakers Rep’s former associate artistic director. In August of 2015, he followed former PRC artistic director Joseph Haj to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

“Bekah was an undergraduate while I was in graduate school, ” says Jeffrey Meanza. “Our relationship started as friends; but I always thought she was too cool for me, because she’s exceptionally cool. She was this deeply artistic human being who has an incredibly unique voice.”

He adds, “I’ve watched her work since she graduated, and she’s just continued to grow. She’s actually up for an Emmy for NBC’s This Is Us. And the fabulous [PRC producing artistic director] Vivienne Benesch and I have been talking about the possibility of my directing for PlayMakers since she came on board, so the opportunity to direct The Cake at PlayMakers was simply too good to pass up. This play is terribly moving and funny — and the icing on the cake is that I get to work with the wonderful Julia Gibson at the center of this beautiful narrative.”

Christine Mirzayan (left) and Jenny Latimer star as Macy and Jen in <em>The Cake</em> (photo by HuthPhoto)

Christine Mirzayan (left) and Jenny Latimer star as Macy and Jen in The Cake (photo by HuthPhoto)

Meanza claims, “It couldn’t be a better time to tackle this play: with a case about to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on this very topic and, perhaps, more importantly, in a moment when our cultural divide could not be more deeply felt. What I love about Bekah’s writing, is that she renders all of these characters with such care and love, and with aching detail. There’s such a deeply felt humanity to all four of the characters, that I hope it will inspire meaningful conversation for the PlayMakers community.”

He says, “The play follows two couples: Della and Tim [played by Julia Gibson and Derrick Ivey], a straight couple living in Winston-Salem, and Jen and Macy [played by Jenny Latimer and Christine Mirzayan], a lesbian couple who live in Brooklyn and are planning their fall wedding in North Carolina. Jen grew up in Winston, and Della was like a second mother to her.”

Meanza adds, “Della, a brilliant baker with a local shop, is approached by Jen and Macy to bake the cake for their wedding. Della, who has deeply held conservative values, wrestles with her decision as to whether or not she can honor their request, just as Jen wrestles with her place in the world, never quite ‘at home’ in North Carolina or New York.

“The play asks us, as audience members, to interrogate our own deeply held values and our assumptions about those who believe differently from us,” says Jeffrey Meanza. “And it’s also incredibly funny! …

“Della’s bake shop is the shell of this piece, and we wanted to keep it very North Carolinian,” says Meanza. “The shop is Della’s baby; it’s Della’s aesthetic. But we also have to be in the bedrooms of both couples. And since we’re not in a typical proscenium space, we can’t just drop the curtain and move some scenery around.

“So, how do you keep the shell of Della’s bakery without losing the sense of the other space?” he asks. “I would say that’s the thing that kept [scenic designer Jan Chambers] and me up all night long — many nights. But I think you’ll like the way we solve it.”

Chambers notes, “There’s a lot of black and white [on the set]. Della’s world and her thoughts are black and white, until they’re not. Then she discovers that it’s not all black and white.”

She adds, “This wooden floor that’s been painted black and white had a different feel, a very human element — it was worn and old and loved; and yes, it is an artifice in sort of a shabby-chic manner that swept through the South. That was something that spoke to me about Della’s character — she would embrace the loveliness, the elegance of it — but it’s also rustic in its way and comfortable. We really tried to get a hold of who these characters are. What I hope the set embraces is the characters.”

The Cake stars Derrick Ivey as Tim and Julia Gibson as Della (photo by HuthPhoto)

The Cake stars Derrick Ivey as Tim and Julia Gibson as Della (photo by HuthPhoto)

Lighting designer Burke Brown says, “I’m from North Carolina — I actually grew up in Sanford — and now I live in New York. Those two point of views are meeting in this play — the uber-liberal Brooklyn point of view and the very Southern, conservative Christian point-of-view. I have both of those, just like the main character, so [this play] grabs me. As to the lighting, there are these wonderful kinds of game-show aspects, and we’ve got some fun things planned for that.”

“The first time I read the play,” says costume designer Junghyun Georgia Lee, “it was very heartwarming. I tried not to look into any of the stereotypes. I really loved it. Take Macy, for example. I have many friends that all have different characteristics like Macy, but I can’t really take their personality and put it on her clothing style. It’s so much more complicated and intertwined.”

Other members of the PRC creative team for this production include associate director Rebecca Martinez, production manager Michael Rolleri, sound designer Bruno Louchouarn, dramaturg Mark Perry, vocal coach John Patrick, stage manager Elizabeth Ray, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang.

“[Cake is] a brave play, declares director Jeffrey Meanza. “In a medium that doesn’t deal with conservative Christian values, except through stereotype, [playwright] Bekah [Brunstetter] renders this woman, Della, with such compassion. She really is a heroine in this piece, and we watch her struggle over the course of the play.”

He adds, “I think that’s something that’s rarely accomplished in theater, or even tackled. It’s super-exciting to have this play done in North Carolina at this time. So much of it is about how we bridge the gap between our differences, because love is more important. Even though we may never see eye-to-eye, we will work toward understanding one another and one another’s point of view.”

Christine Mirzayan (left) and Julia Gibson star as Macy and Della in <em>The Cake</em> (photo by HuthPhoto)

Christine Mirzayan (left) and Julia Gibson star as Macy and Della (photo by HuthPhoto)

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 13th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by David Menconi: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/performing-arts/article173086231.html; Sept. 13th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-cake/Event?oid=7493170; Sept. 13th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by David Menconi: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article173079116.html; Sept. 7th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with playwright Bekah Brunstetter, director Jeff Meanza, and UNC law professor Michael Gerhardt, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/who-gets-have-cake-and-eat-it-too#stream/0; July 6th Chicago, IL People’s World preview by Eric A. Gordon: http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/to-bake-or-not-to-bake-the-cake-takes-on-religious-liberty/; June 28th Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles Times preview by Daryl H. Miller: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-bekah-brunstetter-20170628-story.html and June 21st preview by Deborah Vankin: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-debra-jo-rupp-20170622-story.html; March 20th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) interview with playwright Bekah Brunstetter, conducted by Molly Horak: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2017/03/qa-with-unc-graduate-and-this-is-us-writer-bekah-brunstetter.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE CAKE at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13-15 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 Community Night, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20-22, 2 p.m. Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26-29, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30, and 2 p.m. Oct. 1 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$57 ($10 UNC students with photo ID), except $15 general admission on Community Night (Tuesday, Sept. 19th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/show/the-cake/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1677851012247961/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QIOuxzlDyQ.

PRC NEWS RELEASE: http://playmakersrep.org/jeff-meanza-returns/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be a gala opening-night performance, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16th.

NOTE 3: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19th.

NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24th, performances.

NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30th (for more information, click here).

OTHER LINKS:

Bekah Brunstetter (Winston-Salem, NC-born Los Angeles, CA playwright): http://blog.bekahbrunstetter.com/ (official website), http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsB/brunstetter-bekah.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database ), https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/706 (Playscripts, Inc. bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/48553 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5110063/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/bekah.brunstetter (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/funstetter (Twitter page).

Jeffrey Meanza (Minneapolis, MN director): http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/jeffrey-meanza/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3201760/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/meanza (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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