ALISON BECHDEL was at the center of not only the personal storm, but also the creative form. And so when her masterpiece of a memoir moved from page to stage, she never claimed to have the best sight-lines in the house for assessing the work.
“I think it’s a freakishly good play. Maybe even a perfect play,” Bechdel told me last year of “Fun Home,” the musical adaptation of her bestselling 2006 graphic novel. But she qualified that: “Of course, I have no critical distance, since it’s based on not just my book, but my life.”
Bechdel doesn’t need that distance now, however, because the critics and jurors have spoken. The verdict? Yes, Alison, it is a freakishly good play.
Late Sunday night, “Fun Home” capped its remarkable run to the awards podium. The work that was a Pulitzer finalist for drama a year ago, and which received Obie and Lucille Lortel awards (best musical) for its Public Theater run that ended in 2014, only picked up steam by the time it hit Broadway several months later for its immersive Circle in the Square staging.
And so, as the Tony Awards telecast neared its conclusion last night, there was Team “Fun Home” on the Radio City Music Hall stage, celebrating the production’s near-perfect run. “Fun Home” had won the trophy for best musical, and the joy in the room was not only palpable, but also resoundingly loud, in the way that a dark-horse upstart inspires full-throated cheers at the final wire.
“Fun Home” won five Tonys in all — tying “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for the biggest haul of the night — including best original musical score for Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (lyrics), marking the first time an all-female team has ever received a best-score Tony. Kron also won for best book of a musical.
When “Fun Home’s” Michael Cerveris won the Tony for best actor in a musical, he said that the work is about “finding out who you are,” and that “our show is about home.” Bechdel’s Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir — subtitled, “A Family Tragicomic” — centers on her life in a small Pennsylvania town, as a young lesbian grows up with a closeted father (making it politically fitting when Cerveris noted onstage that he hoped “the Supreme Court can now recognize” same-sex marriage — and rendering it thematically poignant when Joel Grey, who came out this year, in his 80s, stood on the stage with daughter Jennifer Grey to announce “Fun Home’s” moving musical number of the night, “Ring of Keys”).
And when “Fun Home” won for best musical, its makers said: “We stand here because your faith was boundless. ”
That boundless faith has taken “Fun Home” on a long and improbable journey, but the work has found validation at most every turn — and rallied when it met such resistance as censorship in the South.
Last year, Bechdel — also creator of the long-running comic strip “dykestowatchoutfor” (1983-2008) — spoke in Charleston, S.C., and attended two special performances of “Fun Home” — just months after the Public Theater show closed in New York. The performers reconvened from across the country to support the College of Charleston in response to controversial budget cuts, which came because the institution was teaching “Fun Home” to incoming freshmen.
And that validation has included Bechdel’s receiving the MacArthur “genius” grant last year. “I’m struggling to keep up with myself, and keep my feet on the ground,” Bechdel told The Post’s Comic Riffs during that whirlwind period.
But perhaps now, with this run of theatrical laurels complete, Bechdel can finally put those feet up for a bit, and savor the accomplishment that defied the odds, and know that her emotional truths — twinned with beautiful music and stirring voices like that of 11-year-old Sydney Lucas — find human universality in the specific.
In his Tonys acceptance speech for acting, Cerveris thanked Bechdel for this “beautiful story.”
In his acceptance speech for directing, “Fun Home’s” Sam Gold thanked Bechdel “for your life and your work.”
And upon winning the big award, “Fun Home’s” theatrical family said: “Our foremost gratitude goes out to Alison Bechdel.”
Two hours after that joy-filled moment atop the industry’s mountain, amid the post-win revelry, Bechdel sent me a text that said simply: “Yes, I guess finally I must accept that ‘Fun Home’ has struck some kind of nerve.”
What it has struck, of course, is home.