I’m convinced that every theater kid has a show that is irrevocably linked to them. It may not be their favorite, but there’s something about it that seeps into their skin like a heroin needle to the vein. Destructive and compelling and dangerous.
My Fun Home journey began 85 years before my birth. If you’re a Denver native, you might know where I’m headed with this. In 1912, the Titanic sank. One woman, a Denver socialite, boarded the legendary ship as it was the fastest route to her dying grandson. When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the early morning hours, Miss Molly Brown jumped into action, assisting passenger after passenger into lifeboats. When she was finally forced into Lifeboat #6, she persuaded her lifeboat passengers to turn around and look for survivors. Years later, a musical would be made about her life, and, years after that, the show would return revitalized on one of the smaller stages in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex. Beth Malone, an old friend of my theater director, starred as Molly Brown.
My high school theater company went and met up with her after the show. Weeks later, during a performance of Lord of the Flies, our company recognized a familiar face in the private box across from ours. We met Mrs. Malone for a second time. We knew Unsinkable Molly Brown was closing and asked her what she would do after. She mentioned working on a show about a funeral home and a weird father/daughter relationship. Um… no thanks! Not for me!
A year later, some of our company, loosely guided by our director, ventured to New York to see 6 shows in four days. Our theater director made some calls and got us tickets to Beth’s show Fun Home. None of us were excited to see it, but accepted due to a talk back with Beth after the show. We barely made the showtime but scooted in as the house lights faded. The musical, played in the round, irrevocably changed my life.
It made me a better artist and storyteller, stimulating design ideas and plot construction. But it reached beyond that and forced me to face my own unconventional family, my own humiliation and family difficulties. My house was broken since the day I came out, words unspoken and lines crossed. Two years later, the tour came to Denver, and, being season ticket holders, my family had two tickets. I was still at school but I encouraged my mother and sister to go. They did and were devastated by the story line. I’d like to think that night softened their perspective.
It was because of my intimacy with Fun Home, the way it seemed to stare down into my naked soul, that I avoided reading Bechdel’s graphic memoir the musical was based on. Yesterday, as I was picking up a book I ordered from Barnes & Nobel, I found myself inexplicitly drawn to the history and biography section over and over again. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was supposed to pick something else up. And then, on my fifth time around the shelves, I spotted the shiny green spine. It was time.
I curled up on the couch and dug in. I love graphic novels. I love memoirs. Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir seemed like a perfect fit. But as I turned each page, I felt a gnawing surprise. Fun Home has a depth and intelligence I’m unused to in the genre. This isn’t to say I think graphic novels are shallow or dumb. Tan’s The Arrival, Tomine’s Killing and Dying: Stories, even Collins’ The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil all exhibit great depth and knowledge. But Fun Home has such literary depth. It’s an elongated metaphor; it builds from literature’s greats; it’s artistic and beautiful and illuminating. It is wholly original, not just for the story, but for the storyteller’s wit, charm, and class in delivering her story.
On a product level, Bechdel’s book is almost perfect. The jacket design (unlisted) seems like it should be unsuccessful. The sheen green is an ugly color, and yet, for some reason, it’s wildly successful. The title font evokes a type writer, a common theme for the novel. The cartoon caption font is carried throughout the novel – from the copyright page to the acknowledgements – and makes the story seem well rounded and hyperrealistic – as though it exists outside the covers (which it obviously does).
Overall Fun Home is a life changing story in whatever form it takes. I’m glad I finally heard it in the original voice.
What art piece has linked itself to you? What did you think of Fun Home? Let me know in the comments!
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