In these “woke” times, most people are presumably able to figure out that, if women don’t find something funny that some men are laughing at, it usually means that there’s something inherently misguided about the joke. But it wasn’t all that long ago that “Feminists have no sense of humor” was widely accepted as a truism. Luckily, a whole bunch of talented feminist humorists and comedians have since come along to prove that belief wrong.
One of the groundbreakers in that regard was cartoonist Alison Bechdel, whose brilliant underground comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For had a very long run, beginning in the 1980s, in the monthly humor digest Funny Times and a variety of LGBTQ-friendly publications. The group of lesbian friends whose misadventures were chronicled in the strip led lives as complex and nuanced as the characters in the best-written sitcoms, and Bechdel’s askew humor worked its magic for readers of any sexual orientation.
A 2014 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” is just one of many awards that the cartoonist has since won. You may know her name from the “Bechdel Test,” a now-standard parameter for judging whether or not a work of literature, film or TV show is sexist. The bare-bones baseline: Is there at least one scene in which two or more named female characters have a full conversation about something other than a man? The Bechdel Test originated with a character in Dykes to Watch Out For.
Bechdel went on to write an autobiographical graphic novel titled Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, after her family’s private nickname for the Pennsylvania funeral home that her parents operated. The story is mostly about Bechdel’s discovery of her own sexuality, her relationship with her closeted gay father and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life, especially following his death in an automobile accident that may have been a suicide. Sounds grim, but it’s laced with dark humor as well. Time magazine named it the Best Book of 2006.
Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori then adapted Fun Home into a stagework, which won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. Opening this Friday, June 1 and running weekends through June 24, the Rhinebeck Theatre Society will present the regional premiere of Fun Home as part of its 2018 “Season of Women,” in partnership with the Hudson Valley LBGTQ Community Center. The cast includes Ashley France, Mary Kate Barnett, Eliza Petronio, Erin Flory, Jared Allyn Decker, Alex Heinen, Lisa Delia, Dylan Tomas Kastel, Molly Lyons and Jamison Fountain.
Shows begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. Tickets cost $27 and $25, with student rush seats available with ID at the door for $20. Friday-night performances, if not sold out in advance, are Pay What You Can at the door (cash or check only). To reserve your seat, call (845) 876-3080 or visit www.centerforperformingarts.org. The Center for Performing Arts is located at 661 Route 308, about three miles east of downtown Rhinebeck.