There’s No Place Like Home
When Lisa Kron was 16, she saw a professional play at the Fisher Theatre for the first time — Twigs starring Sada Thompson, who won a Tony Award for her performance. The plot was divided into four sections, each focusing on a different woman in one family confronting issues involving the man in her life.
About to turn 56, Kron will return to the Fisher Theatre audience as a Tony winner herself for writing the book and lyrics of Fun Home, now on tour. She will be watching her musical about a family as experienced through one member exploring relationships at three different ages and confronting sexual identity.
The musical, which won five Tony Awards total, is based on Alison Bechdel’s bestselling graphic memoir, which unravels the mysteries of her childhood — and attitude changes toward family — over time. It is the first show written exclusively by women to win theater’s highest achievement.
“The thing that is most satisfying when I look at Fun Home is to see how we channeled the heart of the graphic novel into a completely different form,” Kron says about the production, which runs Nov. 29-Dec. 11 in Detroit.
“One of the great experiences of my artistic life has been collaborating with composer Jeanine Tesori. Whereas I knew nothing about musicals except as a person who loves them and has been in them, Jeanine is a master of the form. Combining our different backgrounds and strengths was really glorious.”
Kron, who was born in Ann Arbor and grew up in Lansing, studied theater at Kalamazoo College and established a New York acting career in productions of The Normal Heart, The Vagina Monologues and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.
Her creative writing skills emerged in theater pieces about family. While 2.5 Minute Ride relates the Holocaust experiences of her late father, William Kron, Well tells about her mother, Ann Kron, still living in Michigan, long tackling allergies and steadfastly fighting for neighborhood integration.
“I’ve always used material from my own life as I explored themes and mechanisms of human nature and ideas,” she says. “Someone once asked me the difference between therapy and autobiographical theater, and I said that therapy is about a person and autobiographical theater is about an audience.”
It took seven years to transform Bechdel’s autobiographical book into a musical.
“In some ways, it’s very much the same working on a play I originated and working on a play being adapted because of having a key story to tell,” Kron explains. “It was true of me in ways that I didn’t realize.
“Taking material and making something that is an accomplished piece of theater becomes doing something other than telling one person’s story. The interest is in crafting a story that is more of an archetype, more generally about the human condition.
“I think artists are mercenaries, and they look for stories they can use to make a connection with their audiences.”
Kron, Tesori and Bechdel felt a kinship because they are close in age, growing up in the late ’60s and ’70s. Kron felt an additional connection in that the questions asked about father-daughter relationships in the book generally are questions Kron asked about her own parent-child connections even though the actual stories are very different.
“My being gay wasn’t what my parents expected, and they had to adjust to it,” she says.
As Kron and Tesori collaborated, they sent Bechdel fragmented script material and demos of songs with reminders of the inventions and conflations. The response was that even the made-up parts felt true.
“Because of the timeline of theater, I’m always working on multiple things at the same time,” says Kron, a founding member of the theater company The Five Lesbian Brothers. “Also because of collaboration, we’re always working around availability of collaborators.
“From the time we started, I also wrote my show In the Wake and was in a production of The Good Person of Szechwan by Brecht, one of my favorite plays of all time. The Brecht play moved from La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club to the Public Theater in New York so it was playing at the Public Theater the same time Fun Home premiered there.
“That was one of the great experiences of my theatrical life. In the same building, I was in one show and could see the show I had written.”
While growing up in Lansing, Kron attended services at Kehillat Israel and was a member of Young Judaea. She and her partner, playwright Madeliene George, are members of B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.
“Right now, I’m working on another musical as an adaptation of the Russian movie Stilyagi,” says Kron, whose visit to Michigan will include a presentation in Ann Arbor — Eileen Myles & Lisa Kron in Conversation with Holly Hughes. “It’s about the desire for human expressiveness and political pushback against that, which presents a lot of problems interesting to me.
“Because a musical is such an American form, has such a sense of personal quest as well as struggle over adversity and [offers] eventual triumph, it is interesting to figure out how to get that propulsion into a social system that is about the collective and not the individual.” *
Fun Home runs Nov. 29-Dec. 11, at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Tickets start at $39. (313) 872-1000; broadwayindetroit.com.
Eileen Myles & Lisa Kron in Conversation with Holly Hughes will be presented 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in the Helmut Stern Auditorium at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor. No admission fee. (734) 764-INFO.
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer