Alison Bechdel Shares Her Sexuality & Emotions
by Hamilton Nguyen
Alison Bechdel’s tragicomic “Fun Home,” directed by William Thomas Hodgson, zips from one girl’s past and present to her future as an out-lesbian artist. “Fun Home” invites despair and humor into her family’s Victorian house. Their home also shockingly doubles as a funeral home—it’s the family business.
Towering over the Bechdel family below, we see the outlines of a roughly sketched Victorian house, reminding us that Alison is a writer and cartoonist. The musical, based on Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home, unfolds her sexual awakening. Her coming out evokes our sympathetic feelings for people who, for so long, were forced to repress their true selves.
Writer Lisa Kron uses three actors to depict Alison’s growing up. She subtly blends Small Alison (Ayla Klasen), Medium Alison (Maia Campbell) and Adult Alison (Lucca Troutman) as they achieve self-awareness. Alison recalls her childhood traumas, her embarrassing college memories, and her nostalgic style of cartooning. All three Alisons show the process of coming out—one person, but three stages of her being.
We watch Alison’s father Bruce (convincing Mark P. Robinson), a hectic husband, evolve into a lawless lover and a failed father. While Bruce single-mindedly polishes a silver cabinet knob, he purposely ignores his daughter’s questions. When Bruce sings “Why am I standing here,” from “Edges of the World,” he reveals the depth of his isolation and suffering. Bruce’s life is suffering over “coming out”—an impossible task in the 70s.
Bruce has his eyes on ambitious Roy and unsuspecting Mark (talented Will Thompson), as targets of his desire. Thompson’s naive and innocent portrayal reveals Bruce’s dark side.
Alison’s secretive and submissive mom Helen (subtle Alison Ewing) tries to maintain her dignity. While singing “Days and Days,” Helen tries to keep her family together while her husband prowls the streets. We feel her pain as she sings “And now my life is shattered and laid bare.” She struggles to balance self-respect with being a loving wife and mother.
Alison and her two brothers, Christian (Sawyer Ciruli) and John (Diego Osorio), bring the stage to life. Singing their hilarious TV commercial about the funeral home, “Come to the Fun Home,” the tiny trio evokes laughter, smiles, and a hint of envy. They have so much fun in that funeral home.
Costume designer Ari Powell chooses clothing that shows the characters as they evolve. Alison’s college girlfriend, the cool and collected Joan (Lindsay Kathryn Ford) sports a punk rock outfit and multiple piercings.
Bruce’s dull 70s suits turn into subtle, exciting dress shirts. He’s a baby peacock growing into its feathers. Helen’s Stepford wives’ dresses gradually bloom into a confident professional woman’s fashion.
“Fun Home” captures growing up and coming out with excitement and sadness. You don’t have to be gay to understand family dynamics can be tough. Growing up is hard, especially with parents who have secrets. There’s lots of love, learning, and laughter in this beautifully produced musical. Don’t miss it.
“Fun Home” –book & lyrics by Lisa Kron, music by Jeanine Tesori, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, directed by William Thomas Hodgson, at Berkeley Playhouse. Info: BerkeleyPlayhouse.org – to April 2, 2023.
Cast: Maia Campbell, Sawyer Ciruli, Alison Ewing, Lindsay Kathryn Ford, Ayla Klasen, Diego Osorio, Mark P. Robinson, Danielle Sutro, Will Thompson, Lucca Troutman, Kyle Walsh, and Rowen Weeramantry.
Banner photo: Rowen Weeramantry, Alison Ewing, Danielle Sutro, Lindsay Kathyrn Ford, Will Thompson, Mark P. Robinson, Kyle Walsh, & Maia Campbell. Photo: Anna Hecht