On a recent trip to New York the only musical I had planned was to see Funhome, the award-winning musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir by the same name. I'm not a huge fan of musicals, at least not the big showy kind, but I wanted to see this musical because I really loved the book when I read it a few years ago.
Bechdel is the author of the excellent serialized comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, which I used to read in feminist magazines when I was in university. Her graphic memoir, Funhome: A Family Tragicomic, tells the story of Bechdel's relationship with her father. He was a high school English teacher who also ran the family funeral home (which his kids called The Funhome), and a deeply closeted gay man. The book chronicles Alison's struggle to come out to her parents as a lesbian and to understand her father's homosexuality. Bechdel attempts to talk to her father, to get him to respond to her coming out letter, but they are never able to connect and speak openly about their relationship or their sexuality.
Bechdel tells a remarkable story through captions and dialogue, but it's her drawing that makes me keep coming back to her story. The family lives in a gothic mansion that her father has lovingly and obsessively restored, often paying more attention to period furnishings than his children. It's an apt setting for this family story that is delves into emotional abuse and failure to connect.
I admit being skeptical to Funhome as a musical, despite its strong visual component. Yet, I really loved the play. Told from three points in Alison's life, the music played into both the comic and the tragic elements of the story. A Jackson Five inspired song for a Funhome commercial that the younger cast members perform was very funny, as was the college age Alison's song about falling in love, "I'm Changing My Major (To Joan)." By far the most moving song in the show was "Telephone Wire" sung by the adult Alison and her father, about their failure to connect. The opening lines reminded me of some of Ani Difranco's songs, emotionally earnest and completely uncampy. I also loved the youngest Alison, Sydney Lucas, singing "Ring of Keys."
The other thing I loved about the play was how closely cast the actors were to the drawings in the book. I've always been annoyed by movie adaptations of books that don't match up to the picture in my head of a character. Because the musical had the comic drawings to draw from, the play was exactly what I had imagined.
|The three Alison actors in Bechdel's Funhome|