An Author's Life Comes to Life: Alison Bechdel on Fun Home

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09 Nov 2013

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Photo by Elena Seibert

Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist of the long-running syndicated strip "Dykes to Watch Out For," never imagined that when she set out to write "Fun Home," her 2006 graphic memoir that literally traces her coming-of-age as a lesbian and the suicide of her closeted gay father, that a full-circle moment would occur when the musical based on her book would premiere to critical acclaim Off-Broadway at the Public Theater.

Bechdel, who laughed when characterizing herself as a "casual consumer of musical theatre," admitted, "I don't really know much about the medium. In a way, that's why I felt so comfortable turning it over to other people, because it was a very alien art form to me."

However, even before Tony nominees Jeanine Tesori (composer) and Lisa Kron (librettist) began adapting "Fun Home," Bechdel had unknowingly set the stage for the musical within the illustrated pages of her memoir.

Late in the book, Bechdel documents her experience seeing one of the Public Theater's most-famous hits, the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line, with her father and brothers during a trip to New York City. Only pages later, Bechdel – imagining the life her father may have faced in New York City in the early 1980s – draws a poster for Larry Kramer's AIDS drama The Normal Heart playing at the Public.

"I love that. It's one of many synchronicities," Bechdel noted. "The book is all about the way that my parents seemed to me like fictional characters, and with Fun Home, they actually have become fictional characters in a stage play."

Bechdel has seen the musical several times during its current, extended run at the Public, as well as at various stages of its development. She explained that the surreal experience transcends the act of an author handing over her book for adaptation; in this case, the lights go up on her own life. The "characters" presented in Fun Home are not only her family, they are her own interpretations of them as depicted in her drawings, brought to life.

Layering the experience is that Bechdel herself is portrayed at three various points in her life by actresses Sydney Lucas, Alexandra Socha and Beth Malone as Small Alison, Medium Alison and the adult Alison, respectively, a dramatic choice that Bechdel identifies with: "We do live simultaneously like that, with our childhood self intact and our young selves intact and our old selves holding it all."


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