Fun Home: A Story about being Queer in Central Pennsylvania

Kelsey Werkheiser, Contributing Writer

On April 8 through 11, the University’s theater department put on the musical Fun Home, an adaptation of the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. The musical follows Alison – played by Sydney Dickinson ’22 – as she narrates the story from her future perspective, where she is writing the graphic memoir from which the play derives its name. From this perspective, Alison is able to observe her childhood (played by Yasmine Adam ’24) and college (Emma Battle ’22) personas. The audience watches Alison and her two brothers grow up in a historical Victorian home, on which father Bruce (Jon Riker ’22) is constantly restoring. The family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home, is referred to as the “Fun Home” by the family. 

As Alison grows up, her tomboyish nature in her childhood transforms into her queer identity in college, as she eventually comes out as a lesbian. The news goes over poorly with her mother (Miki Du Bios ’22), but not for the reason you might expect: Alison’s father had multiple affairs with men. With this newfound information, Alison is now navigating publicizing her queer identity alongside her father, who continues to push his own identity further and further into the closet. 

The audience watches in remorse as Alison wishes for a heart-to-heart with her father about their sexualities, but her father is resistant to say little more than reminisce on an old college crush on a male peer. Alison’s narrator persona mentions it right at the start: her father commits suicide by jumping in front of a truck. And yet, the moment is still jolting when it finally occurs. The theater blacks out, and the sound of a truck horn reverberates as two bright lights shine from the back wall to imitate headlights. In the end, the struggle of being a closeted man was too difficult for Bruce to bear. 

While a powerful memoir on its own, this musical bears more weight when performed specifically at the University: less than an hour away from campus in Beech Creek, Pa., the Bechdel home still stands today on Maple Avenue. In fact, it’s now available to stay in as a bed and breakfast! 

While Alison and her family’s story is evidently not the average one, it still speaks volumes to the overall queer experience, especially in central Pennsylvania. In acknowledgement of how difficult it can be to be a queer individual in rural locations, professors Bryan Vandevender and Chase Gregory recently began a quarter-credit class called “How to be Queer in Central Pennsylvania.” Fun Home was a great addition to the class’s reading material, allowing students to find some common experiences within the graphic novel. Vandevender, also the director of the musical, mentioned in his director’s note that “anti-queer animus” is still very much prevalent in central Pennsylvania, as exhibited by incidents such “last year’s attack on Fran’s House.” Vandevender closes out his note in saying that he wants to “challenge us to contemplate the exigencies of being queer in this region.”

Battle reflected on why being involved in this show was so important to her. “I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to be a part of this particular production during my senior year at Bucknell. Fun Home has been my favorite show since I saw it on Broadway back in 2016! It raises so many important topics that I think we aren’t talking about enough on campus right now like gender and sexuality, mental health, domestic abuse, suicide, coming-out and just growing up in general. It was beautiful to finally see LGBTQ identities represented onstage in such an honest and real way!” Battle said.

“I hope that this was only the beginning for this kind of representation in the Theater Department, and that Bucknell can continue to foster these kinds of conversations on campus!” Battle said.

If you made the trip to Harvey Powers Theatre to see Fun Home on April 8, 9, 10 or 11, you were likely met by large vertical banners standing in the lobby of the theatre. This was a free exhibit entitled “The Long Road to LGBTQ+ Equality in Pennsylvania,” displayed in the Great Room of Hildreth-Mirza Hall until 3:00 p.m. on the eighth before being moved to the lobby. The exhibit, created by the Central PA LGBTQ+ History Project, was brought to campus in support of the aforementioned class “How to be Queer in Central Pennsylvania.” The 11-panel display summarized important moments in queer history in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Lancaster, York, Allentown and Montgomery.

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