Content warning: (Reclamation of) lesbophobic slur, discussion of suicide
Upstage, Wellesley’s student-run theater company, put on a production of “Fun Home” this past weekend from March 10 to 13. The musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic autobiography of the same name. “Fun Home” details her experience growing up, coming to terms with her sexuality and navigating her fraught relationship with her father, whom she discovers is a closeted gay man. Bechdel’s name is perhaps most recognized for the “test” she wrote about in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which measures female representation in media as a way of commenting on lesbian alienation in mainstream culture. Lesbian identity is also central to “Fun Home,” both the graphic novel and the musical, which was just one of the reasons director Emma Wine ’24 thought it was a unique opportunity for Wellesley College.
“I was really attracted to, from a directing perspective, the complexity of the characters and the non-linear nature of the show,” Wine said.
The production had a cast of nine people. The musical splits the role of Alison Bechdel into three parts; Micah Fong ’22 played Alison as an adult cartoonist, Anna Kraffmiller ’24 was college-aged Alison and Ella Stanley ’25 played Alison as a child. As Big Alison narrates her coming of age by writing a graphic novel about it — just as Bechdel did in real life — she sometimes interacts with her younger selves and breaks through the barrier of time. The musical culminates with Alison trying to gain closure about her father’s suicide; she wonders if her coming out played a part in his death. Although the script and songs are emotional and deal with heavy topics, the cast and crew also emphasized the comedic and inspirational aspects.
“While it’s a tragic and heart-wrenching story, it’s really beautiful, and it’s the story of someone coming into her identity,” Ana Luisa McCullough ’22, who played Alison’s girlfriend Joan, said.
Members of the cast and crew alike noted that audiences reacted strongly to Medium Alison’s storyline, perhaps because it is relatable to many gay college students. The musical was meaningful to members of the “Fun Home” team, most of whom are LGBTQ+.
“When actors were auditioning, they also had to fill out this Google Form talking about … why they [wanted] to be involved in the show, and so many people referenced how important ‘Fun Home’ had been to them personally way before Wellesley was planning on doing it,” stage manager Sarah Meier ’24 said. “Almost every actor … was intimately familiar with the play already, so everyone was bringing this sense of importance … and that really showed in their performances.”
McCullough appreciated the thoughtfulness that having a majority-LGBTQ+ cast and crew created during the production. McCullough is bisexual, and after being cast as Joan, they raised concerns about the implications of their character reclaiming the word “dyke” in the show. This led to a conversation with the rest of the cast about the reclamation of slurs, after which everyone decided that it was acceptable for McCullough to use the word in character. Although they are not a lesbian, they still related to many of the show’s themes.
“I have two moms, and I saw [‘Fun Home’ on Broadway] with my mom. Having a gay parent and navigating that was very meaningful for me,” McCullough said.
Wine noted that apart from the LGBTQ+ themes, the musical also addresses topics that many others can relate to, such as trying to fit in and coming to college.
“There’s a line that’s repeated throughout the show — ‘Everything is balanced and serene, like chaos never happens if it’s never seen,’” Wine said. “I think that it speaks to this idea of covering up messiness … At Wellesley, … there’s also a culture of having to put on a perfect exterior … and thinking about that through this show is a really cool additional layer.”
Although everyone in the crew felt that “Fun Home” was an extremely fitting show for Wellesley, there were some unique challenges in staging it at a historically women’s college. Grey Devlin ’22, the show’s musical director, spent time figuring out how the actors would sing the male parts in the songs.
“A lot of the roles for male voices were kind of hard to tackle, but I think all the actors that played male roles did a good job adapting their range in voices, and I appreciated all of the vocal approaches they brought,” Devlin said.
McCullough thought that having these roles played by non-men made the performances stronger.
“There is something really powerful about having all of these roles, especially Bruce and the brothers, played by people who have maybe a slightly more nuanced understanding of gender,” they said.
Overall, the cast and crew are extremely happy with the finished production, which sold out days in advance of opening night. For many students, this was their first production since before the pandemic.
“This was my first experience with theater at Wellesley,” Meier said. “It was really great to be back.”