Moira Stone is in awe of Alison Bechdel.
It’s not just Bechdel’s obvious talent as an author, illustrator, and her critical role in popular culture. It’s not simply her inspiration for women of all sexual orientations. And it’s not just her voice, which lends itself powerfully and passionately to the feminist movement, exemplified in one form by what is known as the Bechdel Test.
What is it that makes Stone swoon? Try all of it.
Stone is making her Bay Area debut playing the adult version of Bechdel in the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production of “Fun Home,” the musical based on the 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. The show, composed by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, was nominated in 2015 for ten Tony Awards, nabbing five, including Best Musical.
The show follows three version of Bechdel and her path to discovering not only her own sexuality, but her father Bruce’s as well, a man who lived a secret, closeted life until he was killed by a truck, a death Bechdel believes was a suicide. Bruce was a high school English teacher, part-time mortician and a man who became obsessed with restoring his house, which could conceivably double as a museum.
The musical, which had its world premiere at the Public Theatre in New York City in 2013, is something of a bucket list show for Stone. She saw that production, which made it to Broadway two years later, and performed the role of Alison for the first time a year ago at Vermont Stage in Burlington, where Bechdel has resided.
As someone who loved the book and had it proudly on her bookshelf since that 2006 publishing, Stone had some skepticism of how the material would be turned into a musical. But it only took a few moments sitting in the Public for Stone to realize that it was a special, life-changing endeavor.
“I pretty much sobbed through a good half of the show,” said Stone. “It’s beautiful, powerful and more moving and interesting than I could have imagined. I walked out kind of stunned and amazed.”
When Stone took her place on the stage in the role of Alison, that sobbing continued.
“In my first go around with the role, one of my biggest challenges was not to spend the whole show crying,” said Stone. “While other actors had to work hard to find the emotion, for me it was getting a hold of myself. So for that first time, I was struggling to find my own emotional center. Maybe it’s because I have a slightly bigger view of the whole story, and not just the parts that hold me deeply.”
What Stone says makes sense in many ways, especially logistically. The role of Alison sits on a perch, overlooking two other versions of herself, named Small Alison and Medium Alison. Her engagement is omniscient and permanent, staying on the stage the entire time, which allows the audience to experience the full journey through her eyes.
“The role of Alison is very strange structurally in the show because I don’t say all that much,” said Stone. “I am watching, listening and reliving my own memories through other people. But what I learn is internal, and I’ve learned how reliving a certain moment might feel in my body.
“When I watch Small and Medium Alison, what I relive is dependent on my colleagues, who are flat out amazing. The things I learn are internal, and I learn them in quiet, emotional shifts.”
When Stone worked on “Fun Home” a year ago in Burlington, it gave her an invaluable resource – Bechdel herself. Whether it was having some private time with Bechdel, which she did, or just watching her move, Stone ate it all up.
“The thing I took from her is her physicality,” said Stone. “When I met her and she was wearing these beautiful and fabulous clothes, and I saw her move through a room, I just thought ‘Wow, there she is.’ It gave me a nice place to start working from.”
One of the reasons Stone loves her role so much is based in a sort of selfishness. As the narrator, she never leaves the stage, allowing her to embrace the brilliantly nuanced compositions of Tesori and the scintillating words of Kron in a very unique way.
“Even now, I am discovering connections, and I enjoy pretty much every song,” said Stone. “The joy of never leaving the stage is that I have that fun every single night.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents “Fun Home”
Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Robert Kelley
Based on the 2006 graphic novel by Alison Bechdel
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
Through Oct. 28th
Tickets range from $40 – $100
For tickets, call (650) 463-1960 or visit theatreworks.org