“If I could dress myself in the perfect outfit, it would be like a pirate.”
Beth Malone is being completely serious. After walking countless red carpets during the hectic theater awards season, dressed in carefully selected ensembles, what the Fun Home star really wants to do is put on some tall boots and ruffled shirts with French cuffs.
Malone’s dream outfit choice is no surprise. She is currently starring on Broadway as Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” in a musical inspired by the cartoonist’s memoir about her father’s closeted sexuality and death. A proud lesbian who has been married for almost 20 years, Malone earned a Tony Award nomination for her heartfelt performance
Sitting on a couch in the lobby of the citizenM hotel, her feet tucked under her knees, Malone is dressed in jeans and a zip-up jacket, her closely-cropped dark hair hidden underneath a knit cap. She is animated and eager to share the details of her photo shoot, in which she explores transitioning from one gender to another in front of the camera.
Malone has had the idea for awhile, and she had originally hoped to present it as a performance piece. “I thought I would do it for Broadway Bares or something — come out fully as one gender or another and be able to transition seamlessly and completely astoundingly believably right in front of people’s eyes,” she says, pausing before adding, “I find it harder to do than you think.”
“I wanted to address it in photos and how it’s all just sleight of hand,” she continues. “It’s all a theatrical eye trick. And I wanted to start out as female in particular, so people don’t know who they’re looking at until later and then they have to go back and reassess.”
Black silk gowns and gloves are not staples of Malone’s everyday wardrobe, which she describes as “all about comfort and functionality — very lesbian-y.” Growing up in Colorado and spending the majority of her 20s there, she was more concerned with the durability and athletic ability of her outfits than their presentation. “I really enjoy throwing on whatever I want and going out the door without a lot of fuss,” she explains. “Life is to be lived and how I present myself is really, really low on the things I think about. I don’t know that happened to me as a female in this world.”
Moving to New York didn’t change much for Malone. During our conversation, she holds up her foot to show off her Merrell shoes, which she says are in constant danger of being thrown away by her wife. (Malone’s wife Rochelle shows up at the end of the interview, and when asked about the footwear, Rochelle rolls her eyes and shakes her head.)
After Fun Home made its Broadway bow and snagged the Tony for best musical, Malone’s public persona grew—and so did her wardrobe. Relying on her friends and the musical’s press representatives for help, she found her outfits being selected a week at a time. And with future work opportunities in mind, her recently hired managers are encouraging her to wear dresses at every upcoming event for the next year, a request Malone admitted inspires conflict.
“I don’t have a butch gender identity at all, but I do know who I am, very specifically, and I’m a pants kind of girl,” she says. “If I’m going to be my most authentic self, which I think we want to do in life, and I’m more and more comfortable in my own skin, then you’re going to see me in pants more often than not.”
Malone’s love for pants was visible the opening night of Fun Home, when she wore a custom-fitted tuxedo, an outfit she says made her feel very sexy and feminine. “I didn’t feel like a man; I felt like a very hot lesbian,” she remembers. “Sometimes when I’m dressed really femininely — in a way that someone might consider slutty — that’s when I feel the most fraudulent. I feel badass when I’m showing my body in a way that I feel I am still myself.”
As Fun Home has attracted passionate fans across the country, who refer to themselves as “Fun Homies,” Malone’s portrayal of Bechdel — dressed in jeans and a loose red t-shirt, with short hair and large glasses — has gathered its own attention. The first actress to play a butch lesbian protagonist on Broadway, she has received numerous letters from women expressing their gratitude for her performance. It’s clear to Malone that she represents something important to them.
Fans’ reactions to her appearance when meeting her at the stage door has surprised Malone. And, she says, she’s been surprised by her own reaction when people compliment her on her looks.
“I didn’t want to make it too simple for people to think ‘Oh, look, she’s a pretty girl. Phew!’” she says of the photo shoot, which she hopes will surprise and challenge people.
“There’s a privilege in society of being attractive,” she continues. “When I get on an airplane and am wearing a hoodie, I get treated a certain way. If I am on an airplane and wearing a little makeup and something cute and form-fitting, I am treated a different way. There’s just no getting around it.”
The perception of masculine and feminine was made apparent to Malone when she expressed interest in auditioning for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, an updated production of the 1960 musical that Tony winner Kathleen Marshall helmed at Denver Center Theater Company in 2014. Despite knowing book writer Dick Scanlan, Malone says Scanlan was surprised by her interest in the production. His hesitation to see her, she thinks, came from him only knowing her onstage as Alison Bechdel. But she proved she could do it: Malone was cast as the scrappy, self-starting woman, who in the musical, goes through 14 costume changes, including many corseted gowns.
But one of the most glamorous items Malone has added to for her wardrobe is a pair of thigh-high cashmere socks that her Fun Home co-star, Judy Kuhn, gave her for her birthday.
“They’re dreamy,” she says, smiling. “I don’t know how to wear them or what to wear them with, so I just wear them around my house with my boxer shorts and my slippers so far, which is a big hit at my house.”