I attended Fun Home, a musical adaptation of the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, at Portland Center Stage. The Broadway production of Fun Home won a Tony for Best Musical in 2015 among other awards, which was a huge achievement for the representation of queer women in mainstream theater and media. When people who experience systemic marginalization also have very little representation, if any, in media and art, it is easier for stereotypes and generalizations to dominate and affect the policies and institutions that are contributing to their marginalization. Fun Home, a story of a young woman discovering her queer sexuality in relation and contrast to her father’s sexuality and death, received critical acclaim from both the theater world and audiences. This wide reception of the play will hopefully influence and encourage more productions to represent marginalized voices.
While important and absolutely enjoyable, the musical adaptation made some interesting narrative choices for what would remain of Bechdel’s experience as it is expressed in the book. The musical maintained the tension and relationship between Bechdel’s queerness and the sometimes hidden, but ultimately exposed queerness of her father, which is the central question of the musical and memoir. In the musical, Bechdel’s persona is confined to exploring sexuality in her college years, although in the memoir, these explorations are also briefly seen in her childhood as she discovers masturbation and nude pictures of women. The discussion of mental illness in the musical revolves around her father and his death, which possibly and likely was suicide. In the book, in addition to her father Bechdel herself deals with obsessive compulsive tendencies which greatly impact how she relates to her family and her development. It is unclear if these particular experiences were excluded for the length of the show, for being narratively challenging, or to make the show more palatable for mainstream audiences. Thankfully, both the musical and memoir exist and the popularity of the musical could lead more people to Bechdel’s memoir and other graphic novels which provide additional representation for queer women and other marginalized identities.