Do you feel that “Fun Home” couldn’t have had the success it’s had if it hadn’t happened at this cultural moment?
If it had happened even two years earlier, I don’t believe it would have had the reception that it’s had. What’s remarkable about this show is two things: One of them is the gay and lesbian content, and the other is that it’s written by two women. Trying to shift the way that was talked about was really hard. It’s very well meaning, but there are so many reflexive questions that get asked by people in the press where there’s no way really to answer them without engaging in that set of assumptions about things.
In terms of the gay and lesbian content, the reflexive question was, “Are people going to have a hard time with it?” That question got asked even when it was already answered, even after the show had been a hit Off Broadway. That was one of the things I feared (if we hadn’t won) the Tony, that people would say, “Right, well, obviously it didn’t win because people have a hard time with the content.” Even when we were being well reviewed and selling out. That was the most satisfying thing about winning the Tony, was that it put that to rest.
How does theater operate as activism? Does it change people’s minds?
I think what I’ve done is to write from my perspective on the world, and have just taken for granted that this was an authoritative locus. What would happen with audiences — and I could really feel it when I was performing my work — was the initial disorientation of people. And then I could feel them relaxing into it, and seeing the world from a different perspective.
But I don’t think of theater as a tool for activism. The job of the playwright is to show people moving through the world. I don’t think plays are meant to make a claim about anything, and that’s their power. One of the things that really held lesbian theater back for a long time was this feeling that with every single portrayal, there was so much need, on everyone’s part, for it to resolve the invisibility. And of course that’s impossible.
What do you see when you look ahead?
In some ways, it feels like an extremely hopeful moment. But what you’re going for — the ideal — is that it’s not the exception anymore. It’s not about a particularly good piece of work making it through. You’ll know you’ve made it when you can have the same amount of mediocre work getting attention.