A pivotal scene in UMW Theatre’s upcoming musical features the protagonist recalling a drive she took with her late father. Struggling to find the words, they sing a heartbreaking duet about their failure to have an open and honest conversation.
“I’ve lived that exact moment, looking out the car window because I didn’t know what to say to my dad,” said senior Lydia Hundley, who plays the college-aged Alison Bechdel, who later became a successful graphic novelist, in Fun Home. Hundley credits Bechdel’s critically acclaimed memoir and the musical it inspired for teaching her how to communicate with her own parents.
She’s one of three actors who will portray Bechdel at various stages of her life. Junior Madison Neilson plays her at age 10, and senior Olivia Whicheloe portrays her as an adult. The show, which continues UMW’s 2019-20 theatre season, kicks off tonight with a Pay-What-You-Can Preview Performance in Klein Theatre at 7:30 p.m. The box office opens at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Weaving back and forth through childhood, college and adulthood, the musical explores Bechdel’s relationship with her father, a closeted gay man, and how she processes his untimely death, which happens shortly after she comes out as a lesbian to her parents. As she writes and illustrates her memoir in the present day, Bechdel untangles these poignant memories and attempts to reconcile her past and present.
Featuring music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, Fun Home opened on Broadway in 2015, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and earned a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“It’s a gorgeous musical about getting to a place in your life where you’re emotionally mature enough to simultaneously feel a number of emotions,” said Department of Theatre and Dance Professor and Chair Gregg Stull, who directs the production.
As an adult, Alison struggles with the complicated feelings she has for her parents, said Stull, who wants the audience to leave the theatre reflecting on their own lives and relationships.
“We all have to grapple with disappointment, loss and grief, and make a decision to move forward. In the end, it’s a tale of tremendous love,” said Stull, adding that he hopes theatre-goers will “feel affirmed that their own story is worthy of being told.”
Exploring Bechdel’s journey as a lesbian was particularly meaningful to Neilson, who is gay and said Bechdel’s memoir resonated with her when she first read it in a Queer Literature course in UMW’s English department.
“I think Fun Home gives people a lot of hope because Bechdel leads a rewarding life,” said Neilson. “Many LGBTQ+ youth don’t see that kind of future for themselves, so they find the story inspiring and uplifting.”
Whicheloe said it was sometimes a challenge to portray a woman twice her age. But like Hundley, she said Fun Home helped her better understand her own parents.
“When you reach the age your parents were in your memories, you begin to see things from their point of view,” Whicheloe said.
While Bechdel’s comics aren’t prominent in the musical, elements of the graphic novel can be found in the lighting design by Jason Arnold. Set changes are made possible through a revolving turntable – reminiscent of fleeting memories – by scenic designer and Assistant Professor Bridgette Dennett. The production also features costume design by Associate Professor Kevin McCluskey, sound design by Tony Angelini, musical direction by David Landrum and choreography by Samantha L. Reynolds.
Fun Home runs Nov. 7 to 9, Nov. 14 to 16, and Nov. 21 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 10, 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. in duPont Hall’s Klein Theatre. Tickets cost $25 for general admission, and $20 for students, senior citizens, alumni and military. AfterWords, a post-show talkback with the cast, will take place following the Nov. 10 matinee.