Arts & Culture

Her legislator father opposed gay marriage. Her complicated feelings inspired a new play.

From left, Christine Mirzayan as Macy, Julia Gibson as Della and Jenny Latimer as Jen in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “The Cake” by Bekah Brunstetter.
From left, Christine Mirzayan as Macy, Julia Gibson as Della and Jenny Latimer as Jen in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “The Cake” by Bekah Brunstetter. Photo by HuthPhoto

Bekah Brunstetter’s new play “The Cake” tells the timely story about a baker’s refusal to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.

That tension between personal beliefs and politics hits very close to home.

Brunstetter’s father is former N.C. Sen. Pete Brunstetter, who supported the 2011 Defense of Marriage Act, also known as Amendment One, that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Pete Brunstetter, a Republican, was a leading lawmaker and chairman of one of the Senate’s judiciary committees when the legislature voted to put the constitutional amendment on marriage to a public vote, which it passed.

Her father’s role in the controversial North Carolina law – which subsequently was overturned by the courts – is partial inspiration for his daughter’s play.

Bekah Brunstetter is the playwright behind PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “The Cake.” Courtesy of Elisabeth Caren

“My parents were heavily involved in (Amendment One), and I have a lot of complicated feelings about it,” Bekah Brunstetter said Wednesday, hours before her play was set to open its run at UNC-Chapel Hill’s PlayMakers Repertory Company. “That event sort of forced me for the first time as an adult to really confront our different belief systems.”

Bekah Brunstetter, a graduate of UNC and a Winston-Salem native, is a writer on the popular NBC series “This Is Us.” She said she and her father often have talked about the roots of their beliefs, but added, “although not that law in detail.”

Through a quirk of North Carolina law-making, her father ended up listed as the sole, primary sponsor of the proposal to ban gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Pete Brunstetter, who left the legislature in 2013, said he and his daughter continue to disagree on gay marriage.

“We don’t talk about it a lot,” he said. “She’s got her set of views on it, I’ve got my set. We work through our differences.”

Pete Brunstetter 2

Neither expects to change each other’s minds, but they remain respectful of each other’s views.

“We’re at an impasse where we both believe what we believe,” Bekah Brunstetter said. “But we try to speak with love and respect. He’s always been really supportive and proud of me, which I don’t discount at all. I can’t imagine it’s been easy for him, seeing me do stuff in a very public way that he doesn’t agree with. But he’s not given me any grief about it.”

Pete Brunstetter said he loves seeing his daughter’s work and plans to see the play in Chapel Hill when she arrives for closing weekend. (This weekend, she’s scheduled to attend Sunday’s Emmy Awards, where “This Is Us” is up for 11 awards, including Outstanding Drama series.)

Her father calls her “thoughtful” and notes she’s a good communicator.

“We’re very supportive of her career and her talent,” he said. “She’s just got a special way of taking people with different views and backgrounds and making them human.”

Bekah Brunstetter said she knows that politics is more complicated than many understand. She said passing a law often means disappointing someone. That said, she said she was happy when Amendment One was overturned.

Her play arrives as the Supreme Court is set to make a decision in October on Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves Jack Phillips, a Colorado cakemaker who refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins’ wedding in 2012. It’s been in court ever since.

“We don’t see eye to eye, but he is a truly amazing man,” Bekah Brunstetter said of her father. “That’s why I write plays like this. I can’t bring myself to dismiss him.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi


What: PlayMakers Repertory Company presents “The Cake,” written by Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Jeffrey Meanza

When: Runs through Oct. 1; 7:30 p.m. performances Tuesdays-Sunday; 2 p.m. matinees each Sunday. Shows followed by discussions with the actors are Sept. 20 and 24.

Where: Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Road, UNC-Chapel Hill

Cost: $15-$57 ($10 for students with valid UNC photo ID)

Tickets: 919-962-7529 or

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