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Friday, April 14, 2017

‘Fun Home’–Lesbian Memoir to Hit Musical

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir at the National Theatre April 18th to May 13th Cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir at the National Theatre April 18th to May 13th

Fun Home, the 2015 Tony-award winning musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, takes the stage this month at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. Running from April 18th to May 13th, Fun Home is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. Baltimore OUTloud recently chatted with Karen Eilbacher, who plays Joan in the musical, to discuss her character, the show’s underlying messages, and what audiences can expect.

“Audiences can expect a lot of drama. Perhaps bring some Kleenex, as well,” Eilbacher laughed. “But, that’s not a prediction of everyone’s experiences with the show. Fun Home has a lot to offer. It’s for everyone because there’s such unification at stake in experiencing the show.”

The performance opens as lead protagonist Alison works on her memoir in the present day. Currently a successful middle-aged cartoonist, Alison recalls two crucial time periods in her life. The first is her childhood, when she struggles against her father Bruce’s obsessive demands and begins to identify her sexuality. The second is her first year in college, when she begins her first relationship and comes out of the closet as a lesbian. It’s while in college that Alison meets Eilbacher’s Joan.

“I approach the character by breathing and taking time to understand the character. When I walk on stage, I let that breath deliver what it may,” Eilbacher continued. “The script is good and it doesn’t take a lot of brain work. The hardest thing it takes is breathing. Joan is a woman who is still living in this world and that doesn’t happen a lot where you have material that comes from the real-life of a person who is still living. So that being said, she’s still living her life and exploring the unknown parts of herself. This encourages me in being open to making mistakes and learning from them. Failures don’t live forever; it always produces a result. I’m always growing in this role and it makes me think that this woman is, too.”

When this role came along Eilbacher admits that it was written so well, that it was obvious she had to accept it. “My voice fits what the story is all about,” Eilbacher says, adding that the performance is layered to evoke a range of emotions. “Fun Home really embraces that there are heavy topics being discussed, yet at the same time, it’s on a train ride of humor and great entertainment. The show has really witty lyrics, dialogue, and song.”

Eilbacher believed that within the show there is a message that is significant for audiences to hear. “I think a lot of people don’t understand the seriousness that an individual can go through struggling to show their truest identity. Fun Home shares that in a way that is facilitated with great beauty, honesty, truth, and emotion. It breaks the heart at times, and I think the heart has to be broken for people to actually care. Fun Home is an incredibly important show because empathy is learned.”

Eilbacher added that her co-starring cast also feels the weighted responsibility of the show. “The company I am with is very serious about portraying this story and these characters. With that type of dedication, you have really good theatre. Audiences members are changed and are coming up to me and telling me how much the story has touched them. It’s so pertinent and everyone says they need it right now. I’m glad that it’s touching them. It’s like umami – you can’t describe it.”

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