Adventures in NYC Theater: “Fun Home” and “Nirbhaya”

I have been a lucky woman these past few weeks, getting to see not one but two NYT critics picks:  Fun Home and Nirbhaya.

Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir by the same name.  Taking its title from the setting–the kids’ sobriquet for the family’s funeral home–the protagonist works to find her identity as a lesbian with a closeted father.  While their home seems like the perfect suburban setting, it instead is a home festering with untruths and derision.  I adored the text and wondered how on earth the Broadway show would compare.  Smartly, they eliminated all of the heady literary allusions of the memoir and focused on the characters, specifically the three women who play Alison at different points in her life, all of whom have been nominated for Tony awards.  The New York Times loved it, and when I read this sentence, I could not wait to see it (along with 50 Kutztown students!)

I can’t think of a recent musical — or play, for that matter — that has done a better job at finding theatrical expression for the wayward dynamics of remembering. That includes the now-you-see-now-you-don’t-aspect of David Zinn’s inspired in-the-round set, in which furniture materializes through trapdoors, as well as the ruthless clarity and sudden, obscuring dimness of Ben Stanton’s lighting.

By playing with time and space, the director and producer have made a brand new text that can only be described as “perfect,” the word I exclaimed to my colleague the moment the show ended.  The storytelling, the acting, the music:  perfect.  I am glad I live in a world where such a story is the hottest ticket in town.  And I am glad I got to see it at the beginning of its run.

My post-show reading about Fun Home led me to a review of another NYT Critic Pick, Nirbhaya.  Taking its title from the rallying cry against violence against women in the streets of India, this show showcases the true stories of six actresses who endured variations on an awful theme:  sexual violence.  Pieced together with the haunting singing of the ghost of Jyoti Singh, the six women tell of partner and stranger rape, incest, burning, mutilation.  The audience–which should have been much more numbered–barely breathes from the mist and the stories and the relentlessness of Jyoti’s song tying all of the women together. The show only runs through this week, so I am writing my weekly post today to get the word out:  see this show.  It matters more than anything else.  Bearing witness to these women’s stories will help us all work to dismantle violent practices.  And if you can’t get to see it, watch this clip to get a sense of what these women are doing every night.

Here’s another clip of their show in Ireland:

While these two shows and their protagonists seem so different–a woman in India, a woman in suburban Pennsylvania–I couldn’t help but leave the past two weeks thinking about how much one’s story matters.  Both shows have the artist, the creator, onstage creating while the play is happening:  Alison is drawing, Jyoti is singing.  The desire, no, THE NEED, to express one’s voice from one step in front of or one step beyond the grave makes these two women emblems of voice, of story, of humanity.  Their bodies bear the scars that manifest into their art.  I find myself even more convinced that words matter, that we need to tell our stories if we are ever going to figure out how to make sure everyone can live in this world without enduring psychic harm to our souls.

See one.  See them both.  Or go read a story.  Someone has something to tell you today.


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