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Fresh off the debut of her musical adaptation of “The Notebook,” Bekah Brunstetter ’04 will debut “The Game” in Chapel Hill.

A young woman stands in the foreground facing the camera while a man plays a video game in the background.
PlayMakers’ “The Game” opens April 13.

When Bekah Brunstetter came home to Chapel Hill in late March, she made sure to visit all her old haunts. She chowed down a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit from Sunrise Kitchen, sipped coffee at Caffé Driade and, of course, attended rehearsals at PlayMakers Repertory Company.

The homecoming felt surreal – a genuine full-circle moment for the 2004 Carolina graduate.

The visit came on the heels of the longtime writer’s Broadway debut — a musical adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook” that she worked on for seven years with composer Ingrid Michaelson.

Seeing her work hit Broadway on March 14 felt like sending a child off to school for the first time. But Brunstetter didn’t have long to soak in the adulation. Within days, she boarded a plane toward North Carolina to put the finishing touches on her next production.

That play, called “The Game,” will make its world premiere at PlayMakers on April 13 and run through April 28, giving Chapel Hill audiences the chance to see a playwright and screenwriter at the top of her craft. Even more, the play has given the Los Angeles-based Brunstetter the opportunity to come home.

“The timing is just truly incredible,” she said. “I wrote my first play when I was 18 years old at UNC-Chapel Hill in the drama building. To go straight from my first Broadway show, after writing plays for 20-something years, to UNC where it all began is just really moving.”

Much like “The Notebook” creative process, crafting “The Game” has been a multi-year effort, dating back to the early days of the pandemic. It started with a call from PlayMakers producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, who gauged Brunstetter’s interest in writing a modern adaptation of the first Greek comedy, “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes.

“I love doing anything that brings me home,” Brunstetter said. “And I love an assignment.”

Originally performed in Ancient Greece in 411 B.C., the comedy centers on an Athenian woman named Lysistrata, who aims to end the Peloponnesian War by persuading women from warring territories to withhold sexual privileges from their soldier husbands.

Brunstetter brings the narrative into the 21st century by swapping the battlefield for video game controllers. In “The Game,” a group of women band together to pull their partners away from a highly addictive online game that is wreaking havoc on their relationships. The play focuses on the married couple Alyssa and Homer, played by actors Megan Ketch and Lucas Dixon, respectively.

Inspiration for the play wasn’t hard to find. Brunstetter’s husband is an avid gamer.

“Over time, I’ve had to really learn to drop my judgment of video games and understand in a deep way what they do for him,” Brunstetter said. “And I’ve had to understand the ways in which I rely on technology to survive and the ways in which technology gives me community.”

Though a comedy at heart, the play touches on universal themes like finding community, the importance of adult friendship and how empathy can help nurture romantic relationships. Brunstetter has proven adept at heartfelt storytelling throughout her career on stage and television, including multiple Emmy nominations for her work on the NBC show “This is Us.”

Now, fresh off her Broadway debut, Brunstetter will bring that storytelling home, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Getting a Broadway show on its feet is exciting, but it’s also stressful and overwhelming,” Brunstetter said. “Coming home to North Carolina and sitting with this new play, driving around campus and looking at the old PlayMakers theater where my first play was produced, gives me a little bit of time for reflection and a moment to really just be grateful.”

PlayMakers is the professional theater-in-residence in the department of dramatic art in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

By Michael Lananna, University Communications

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