Casual movie analysts will already know the name Alison Bechdel from the Bechdel test, her famous rubric. It’s a deliberately low bar by which to measure women’s involvement in films, with only three criteria. 1. The work must have two women in it. 2. They must speak to one another. 3. They must speak together about something that is not a man. That’s all there is to it. The lowness of these standards makes its own point; fewer than 20% of all movies to reach theaters pass.
Ironic, then, that the musical Fun Home, based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, only just barely manages to ease over that bar, and only in a single scene.
To be fair, Fun Home is as much about Bechdel’s father as it is about her. It is a story about her early life, and the balance of secrets and reveals in her own family. It is not a gentle story. To touch on the shapes of it, her father, a teacher and manic home-renovator, was a gay man who could not come to terms with himself. He and his family suffered for it, and his wife hid the secrets of his affairs. Then came a series of events, one not necessarily causing the next but inextricably linked. Bechdel came out as a lesbian to her parents, her mother asked for a divorce, and ultimately, her father committed suicide.
Bechdel’s memoir comic told all of this in a very layered way, sliding forward and back in time, in and out of thoughts, sometimes all in a single panel. It is full of kindness and humor, and above all full of the feelings of the author who lived through this story.
The Broadway adaptation, with music by Jeanine Tesori and script and lyrics by Lisa Kron, plays very closely to the graphic novel’s details and still manages to be its own story, a related but original craftwork. Early performances were sold out, to the credit of director Sam Gold, and it is nominated for Tony Awards in twelve categories including Best Musical.
For more information about the musical adaptation of Fun Home, visit www.broadway.com.