16 Aug Remembering Bruce
I have worked at Millbrook Playhouse a number of times during the past several years. In the covered courtyard there hangs on the wall what I thought was a curious sculpture. Other than looking at it inquisitively and reading the placard, it was something that faded into the background of the playhouse and was certainly forgotten about between various jobs I’ve had there. Each time I returned I would see it still hanging on the wall but no longer gave it pause to study.
This summer I arrived there for another job just after the Tony Awards had been aired. I was delighted to know that the show Fun Home had won best musical of the year. While I did not see the show, I had read the graphic novel it is based on, by Allison Bechdel, which tells the story of her complex relationship with her father Bruce Bechdel and growing up in a small Pennsylvania town. From reading the book I also knew that Allison’s mother, Helen Bechdel, had worked at Millbrook Playhouse decades previously and loved her time there. With all the attention on the show and Allison’s work I was quite fascinated to return to the playhouse this year and see the area with new eyes, knowing something of her and where she grew up and remembering my intense enjoyment of her memoir.
The theatre was buzzing with the news upon my arrival and it was quite exciting. As a result of the renewed attention on the family, tourists were actually coming to visit the area, including driving trips out to see the family’s old home, which is described in minute detail throughout Allison’s book. Much to my surprise the sculpture in the courtyard came into sharp focus this time as I realized that the placard and sculpture was made in honor of Bruce Bechdel, a piece given to the theatre in memory of him and his untimely, if somewhat mysterious, death.
It was an interesting moment of something coming back to the forefront that had previously been dismissed as unimportant and miscellaneous, a quirky item in Millbrook Playhouse history. I suddenly felt connected to the playhouse even more strongly, like the spirit of Bruce was in our midst, acting as talisman for our summer season.
The town greatly admired Bruce Bechdel and his work at the high school (where he taught English) inspired many students. One of the salons in the small town employs a haircutter who said that Bruce taught her to appreciate the simple art of reading.
While I’m not certain what the artwork symbolizes or conveys, it was one artist’s loving tribute to a man who left far too early but gave Allison the inspiration to tell her story and share her life with many readers who admire her verve and appreciate her voice.