GhostLit Repertory Theatre Company brings the award-winning musical, "Fun Home," to the Berkshires
She has collected artifacts of her childhood in central Pennsylvania, near the strip mines on the Allegheny plateau. Her father would scour attics and haul relics from the dump to restore the gothic house where her family lived, and she is thinking of him tonight. When she was in college, he stepped in front of a Sunshine bread truck, and the question hangs over her — did he mean to?
"You were gay, and I was gay," she says aloud, "and you killed yourself, and I became a lesbian cartoonist."
The real Alison Bechdel is a graphic novelist and storyteller, and she became a bestseller, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and Time Magazine No. 1 Book of the Year with her first memoir, "Fun Home." And the woman speaking here tonight is an actor singing her story across the country.
The book became a musical and won five Tony Awards. And this week, the Berkshires' new, young theater group, Ghostlit Repertory Theatre Company, will stage it in a post-and-beam pub with a stone hearth and a piano.
From Wednesday through Sunday, the regional premiere of "Fun Home" is at The Barn at the Egremont Inn. Caitlin Teeley and Harrison Lang co-direct, and Teeley performs as Alison — one Alison. The musical follows her as a child, a teenager, a college woman and an adult.
It moves with Alison through 40 years, through growing up, coming out and finding an adult relationship with her family, as her father struggles with his closeted life in a small town. Adult Alison is unwrapping years of abuse and dysfunction, Teeley said, years of warmth and love and rage broken open
Her father runs the family business, the local funeral home, and teaches high school, while he fills his Victorian home with chandeliers and Chippendale.
But listen to the undertones, Lang said, and his dark anger scores the beautiful story of his daughter's coming out. Her strength and integrity illuminate the daily distortions her family lived with, and in their deeply dysfunctional lives, she finds moments of love and beauty.
"It is an important story to tell," Lang said.
Being a member of the LGBTQ community, he feels it strongly, "the struggles of accepting who you are, and the beauty and joy that comes from it."
Teeley, as a straight woman, feels its force in her own life.
"It's about first love," she said, "family and the joy and sadness within both," and it's about what young Alison sings when she sees a woman walk into a diner in lace-up boots and dungarees: I thought it's supposed to be wrong — but you seem okay with being strong.
"It's a place I've never seen in the theater," Seeley said, "a part of my own narrative."
In 2015, "Fun Home" became the first Broadway musical to center around a lesbian couple, Lang said, as it reveals the life Alison makes for herself and her father's wants and fears.
"It's incredible and tragic to see Bruce at 43, supporting a family, wearing a persona outside his house and inside except when he's with the men in the shadows," Lang said. " He's a husband, a provider and a teacher, running a business — it's by the book. That's what husbands were supposed to be. He couldn't escape."
Bruce has circumscribed his life. "On a map of my hometown," Bechdel writes, "a circle a mile and a half in diameter encompasses a) dad's grave, b) the spot on Route 150 where he died, near an old farmhouse he was restoring, c) the house where he and my mother raised our family, and d) the farm where he was born."
And his daughter is in college in the '80s, in a time of sexual liberation, going to the gay student union, making posters for protests, living openly with her college girlfriend.
He gives her Colette's novels.
"He's connecting in the way he can," Teeley said, "indirect and intellectual. You see the relationship change."
But this is more than Bruce's tragedy. His repressed frustration tears through his family, the high school students in his classroom — and his wife, Helen.
What does his denial mean for a woman who studied drama in New York and married him when he was stationed in Germany? They lived abroad for a year, making friends, talking about theater and novels in three languages, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gunther Glass, "The Great Gatsby" and "The Tin Drum," Sartre and Proust
And then Bruce's father had a heart attack. And Helen was pregnant with Alison. And she returned with him to Pennsylvania, where she had no outlet but to play the piano and try to protect her children and put a good face on it.
"It's hard to watch," Lang said, recalling a moment when the children's longtime babysitter, Roy, comes into the house. Helen looks over at Roy and Bruce, and the music breaks. And then she is singing "maybe not right now "
She can't talk about it, Lang said. The song when she finally acknowledges to Alison the deception she has lived with is heart-wrenching. Every mother who hears it breaks down.
"The days and days you put into being a mother and wife, and losing yourself," Teeley agreed.
Alison finds her feet. She finds her mud boots and her studio, and she looks back with an ache for her mother's pain and her father's absence even when he was alive.
"Her story and Bruce's story need to be told today," Lang said, "in our times. With what's going on in Washington D.C. And in the world."
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