The Rep’s Fun Home celebrates lesbian graphic novelist Alison Bechdel

. September 12, 2018.
Standing (L to R): Emma Bozanich, Andrew Kleopfer, Heath Huber, Ashleigh Glass, Ben Bascuk, and Isaac Bermudez. Sitting: Sydney Breeding, Amber Wilkes, and Lillian Buck.
Standing (L to R): Emma Bozanich, Andrew Kleopfer, Heath Huber, Ashleigh Glass, Ben Bascuk, and Isaac Bermudez. Sitting: Sydney Breeding, Amber Wilkes, and Lillian Buck.

Toledo loves love— and equality— so it’s no surprise that The Toledo Rep chose to debut Fun Home, the true story of lesbian graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.

Bechdel took seven years to finish her graphic novel, in part due to her time-intensive artistic process of photographing herself in poses for each human figure.  Fun Home depicts Bechdel’s discovery of her own sexuality, her relationship with her gay father, and her attempts to dive deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile and brilliant father whose temperament and secrets defined her and her family’s lives.

Moving between past and present

The musical moves fluidly between past and present, reliving Alison’s unique childhood at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, depicting her growing understanding of her own self and sexuality, unlocking the mysteries surrounding her father’s life, and analyzing the unanswered questions about her early years.

The three Als depict Alison at her various life stages: Lillian Buck portrays small Al, Sydney Breeding plays medium Al, and Amber Wilkes is adult Alison, viewing and describing her life and that of her parents through grown-up eyes.

Director Julie Zatko disclosed that she has always been a fan of the book and Alison Bechdel’s works, which piqued her interest to direct the musical adaptation. Zatko confesses, “I sometimes find myself at rehearsal overwhelmed by this opportunity that has been given to me, and how lucky I am to be where I am in this moment in time. [Bechdel’s] story means so much to me; it means so much to many. No matter your background, you will relate to this story on some level.”

The direction of a talented cast

Zatko gushes about the dedication and talent of the cast: “The cast is creative, talented, and professional. They are truly handling the material with care. They have completely committed themselves to openly and honestly telling this story.”  She continues, “They do it without fear. They take risks. The most beautiful thing is they have built this trust with one another. They are so giving–to me, to each other, and soon to the audience. This musical is emotional, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s cathartic. It is not to be missed.”

Critics were skeptical when the graphic novel was adapted for the stage, but Fun Home ended up winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Zatko handles the transition from book to musical seamlessly. She explains, “It has been an amazing journey so far. [The musical] stays true to the novel but is enhanced by Jeanine Tesori’s music and Lisa Kron’s lyrics. The show has a beautiful flow from memory to memory. I did my best to make each transition smooth, [and] it takes months of rehearsal to make that look effortless!”

Fun Home addresses themes of sexual orientation, gender roles, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family life, and suicide.  Chris McAnall, Toledo Rep President, says, “It’s an incredible true story that will pull on all of your emotions. You could say it’s a coming-of-age story for our times, with themes that everyone will relate to figuring out who we are, trying to understand our parents, dealing with our memories of the past, and so much more.”

The book was on the New York Times Best Seller list was nominated for several awards, won an Eisner Award, and was named one of the best books of 2006 by several publications. The production has been called “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.”

$25/adults, $23/seniors. Various showtimes and dates September 14-30. Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St.
419-243-9277. toledorep.org