From March 10-13, Wellesley’s Upstage theater company put on “Fun Home,” the musical by Lisa Kron adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel memoir. I went to see the 7 p.m. Saturday show and it was a full house for good reason — the cast and crew deserve more praise than I can express here for how they conveyed the turbulent, often conflicting emotions that result from having to walk on eggshells around one’s childhood home. It is especially a testament to their skill that for many of them, this was their first Upstage show.
The stage design situates Alison, played by Micah Fong ’22, in the center of the set, sitting at her work desk. This is where she remains for the majority of the musical, except for moments where she is hovering over the Small and Medium versions of herself to reflect back on her journal entries from those moments in her life, or during the song “Telephone Wire” where she steps down to drive with her father. Around her desk is the setting of her childhood home’s living room. The aesthetics are a testament to her father’s priorities: attempting to get their Victorian-era home on the National Register. Though this aspiration is not inherently a bad one, it is the beginning of a pattern throughout the show on his focus of appearances and how they cover up what lies beneath, where Bruce attempts to “fix” things as a way to cover up for his homosexuality and project his anger towards his self outwards, whether that be the various homes he aims to restore or Alison’s gender non-conformity at different points in childhood.
Alison’s placement divides the stage into two halves, which creates several triads throughout the musical, implying the connection between identities of those in the formation. At times, this is Alison and both of the younger versions of herself, and other times it is Alison, one of the younger versions of herself, and her father.
Central to the show is identity and how it is formed over time, with a specific focus on the queerness of both Alison and Bruce and how differently the two interact with that part of their identity. The multiple triads formed over the course of the show create invisible crossroads and it is interesting to consider how these characters may be interacting with one another in that particular scene.
Over the course of the show, Alison’s omniscient presence provides cutting remarks, gentle rebuffs, and self-aware commentary over the memories the audience is guided through. Though one might think with less dialogue the role would feel more secondary, Fong’s talent makes these quips both funny and poignant. They convey Alison’s adult wisdom, not just about her awkward childhood and young adult selves, but also about the abusive and predatory behavior that Bruce engages in and struggles to reconcile with, and they are able to strike that sweet spot between serious and self-effacing necessary for the role. Their singing also covers that emotional range, and I found Alison’s songs such as “Maps” and “Telephone Wire” were some of my favorites performed that night.
Ella Stanley ’25, who played Little Alison, is tasked with having to sing and act to cover a wide range of emotions. She excels especially in those moments when Little Alison is shamed by Bruce into desperately trying to please him, such as when drawing her map for school or wearing a dress for an event. It was difficult not to cry, because you could see how Little Alison put aside her own personhood in order to please her father, and can only imagine how difficult it was for her to later on grapple with the internalized shame around her true self-expression.
Also incredible was Anna Kraffmiller ’24, who played Medium Alison. She captured the awkwardness and excitement that I and many other LGBTQ+ folks have while trying to figure out our identities during our young adult years. Her anxious physicality approaching the Gay Union meeting was perfect, and her excuse of “looking for the German club” as her escape was followed up by a mumbled “Danke” that elicited lots of laughs. There are other scenes where Kraffmiller embodies this joyous chaos well, but my favorite was while she sang “Changing My Major.” Though I favored the more emotionally devastating songs like “Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue” and “Days and Days,” this was my favorite of the more light-hearted ones.
Overall, I don’t have too many critiques of the show. I think that the director, Emma Wine ʼ24, achieved her goal. She brought such care and attention to how this musical would be run because she was aware of how meaningful this story was to many members of the Wellesley community, and had hoped to do it justice. Considering the outbursts of laughter, the entranced silences and even sniffles of possible tears I heard at times throughout the show, my guess is that I wasn’t the only one leaving feeling like I had a cathartic release. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this run did the show right by me.
Directed by Emma Wine and starring Micah Fong as Alison, Ella Stanley as Little Alison, Anna Kraffmiller as Medium Alison, Kaiya Wilson as Bruce (Alison’s father), Paige Befeler as Helen (Alison’s mother), Annika Mathias as John (one of Alison’s brothers), Nico Decker as Christain (one of Alison’s brothers), Nora Cornell as Lovers and Ana Luisa McCollough as Joan.