Murphy Funkhouser Capps’ baggage, for all to see

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

When Murphy Funhkhouser Capps debuted her autobiographical, one-woman show “Crazy Bag” in 2007, her life played out on a set stacked with luggage that served as a visual metaphor for the emotional baggage she carried with her.

On Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at the Asheville Community Theatre, the Black Mountain resident and business owner returned to the stage with “Carry On,” a play with a baggage-related title that picks up right where her first performance left off.

“‘Crazy Bag’ was all about me," she said. "I needed ‘Crazy Bag’ and I needed to give that show to the world. It was more self-serving. ‘Carry On’ represents a new level of maturity for me. It’s not about me, it’s about wanting desperately to give something to other people.”

After confronting her baggage in her one-woman play "Crazy Bag," Murphy Funkhouser Capps explores what to do when it all comes crashing down in "Carry On," which she recently performed at the Asheville Community Theatre.

Funkhouser Capps, who will perform a free, abbreviated version of “Carry On” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, wrote “Crazy Bag” when she was a single mother living in Colorado.

“The premise of the play is that I wake up one day and all the baggage of my life has fallen out of its overhead compartment and it’s all over my apartment,” Funkhouser Capps said. “I have to go through each piece and unpack it to face the decisions I’ve made before deciding whether to keep them or throw them away.

Funkhouser Capps, a native North Carolinian born to a Southern Methodist minister who enlisted in the military when his daughter was three years old. As Funkhouser Capps' tale progresses, the audience learns that the protagonist - an obedient child who left home to study church music at Brevard College - has what Funkhouser Capps calls a “closet heathen,” which becomes a larger part of the character's life.

“The moment my feet hit that campus, I began to rebel,” she said of herself and her character. “There’s a funny joke in the play about how I agreed with God that I’d go to Bible college and he gave me a sweet consolation prize in the form of my freshman year roommate Marlene - the daughter of liberal atheists. She was rebelling by going to Bible college.”

Actually, Funkhouser Capps left for Knoxville, Tennessee. In the play, she recounts a whirlwind life in which she was “very lost” and estranged from her family, she said, until her father’s suicide brought her home in 1998.

Murphy Funkhouser Capps disposes of some of her baggage in a recent performance of "Carry On" at the Asheville Community Theatre.

“As you can imagine, I put a lot of that on myself,” she said. “I assumed that they worried about me until the point that this (the suicide) happened and that he felt like a failure as a father. Like I, the heathen daughter, had left a mark of shame on him.”

Carrying the weight of her father’s death, Funkhouser Capps headed to Colorado, where she became pregnant with her daughter in 2004. The birth of Maggie brought about the ultimate moment of reckoning for the young, single mother.

“In the play there’s a line that says ‘wow, I didn’t realize my daughter had dreams too,” she said. One of those dreams for a little girl weary of her mother's travel and performance schedule was a permanent home. Her mother, turning what she called her personal “junk into treasure,” had been performing "Crazy Bag," accepted into the 2008 San Francisco Fringe Festival, throughout Colorado and in several other states.  

Funkhouser Capps returned to her native state, performed “Crazy Bag” in Asheville for a final time and ended up finding her “matching luggage” in Black Mountain native Kenny Capps. To blend their professional and creative strengths, the couple opened Kudzu Brands, a branding agency, in 2010.

A "closet heathen," as Murphy Funkhouser Capps calls one of her characters in "Carry On," makes an appearance during the Black Mountain resident and business owner's recent performance of at the Asheville Community Theatre.

Having come to grips with her past, “life was perfect,” according to Funkhouser Capps, who had another daughter, Georgia, with Kenny in the coming years. Then, in 2015, her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and everything, including her neatly stowed baggage, came crashing down.

“Three years after we were married we were sitting in the oncologist’s office and getting the news that Kenny had cancer in 80 percent of his bone marrow,” she said.

Kenny wasn't able to work at Kudzu while undergoing a bone marrow transplant. (Forced to take a new direction, the longtime endurance athlete earlier this year launched his “Throwing Bones” campaign to raise money and awareness for bone marrow cancer. As part of the campaign, next year he will run from the Outer Banks to Clingman’s Dome.)

As her husband began his battle with the disease, Funkhouser Capps returned to writing, which had helped her bring order to her life before. “Carry On,” which incorporates “Crazy Bag” as the opening act, was born.

“I think the message (of the play) can help a lot of people,” she said. “There’s a middle section called 'Bewilderness,' which is the midpoint where I had my daughter and was literally walking through the 'bewilderness' like, ‘what’s next?’

“The third section is called 'Domesti-city,' and that’s where I meet Kenny and fall in love,” she added.

The conclusion of the play doesn’t provide any guesses what the next act will hold for Funkhouser Capps, who plans to submit the play to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina later this year. However, as she and her family continue to support Kenny in his fight against multiple myeloma, she wants her message of the necessity of hope to find the people who need it most.

“My hope is that people who need to hear this message about carrying on, about brushing yourself off and standing yourself back up and continuing on no matter what, will hear it,” she said. “That was a gift I wanted to give to people who were hurting.”

Murphy Funkhouser Capps live

What: “Carry On”

When: 6 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Trinity Presbyterian Church, Hendersonville

Cost: Free