It’s Pride Month. We’re still being erased.

My wife Cynthia and I saw Fun Home on tour over the weekend.

We’d seen it on Broadway (I surprised her with tickets for her birthday) and loved it. So when friends who hadn’t seen it suggested that we go see the touring production together, we said yeah!

But there are some real problems with the touring production.

First, there’s everything laid out in Sinister Woman’s excellent post about the de-butching of Fun Home. Big Alison’s awful , un-butch costume made us both angry. How can this be the culmination of the girl who wanted to wear nothing but t-shirts? The girl who argued with her dad about wearing a dress, a barrette in her hair? The girl who sang “Ring of Keys” because she saw something of herself in the delivery woman at the diner?

Even more importantly, the actor just doesn’t do justice to the part. Kate Shindle has a great singing voice. But that’s all she brings to the role. Her stance, her gestures, her walk: none of them read as butch. She lurked around the stage, watching her younger selves without adding anything meaningful (more on that below).

The other thing Cyn and I both noticed was the de-sexualization of the character. The moment that Alison and Joan get together can be so powerful. College-kid I’ve-never-kissed-a-girl-before awkwardness gives way to sweet affection and sexual longing. On Broadway, that moment was hot. It felt real. I loved it.

But now they’re playing it for laughs. Alison is all flailing limbs and slapstick hilarity. There’s nothing sexy about it. This is the *one* moment of the play that shows lesbian romance and sexuality. And they threw it away for comedy, presumably so they wouldn’t make Middle America uncomfortable. This production has decided that lesbians can’t be sexual, and that same-sex love can’t be romantic. It must be minimized. It’s better when the audience can laugh at it.

Here’s the thing about lesbians. We fall in love. We have sex. With each other.

Minimizing those things leads to a lot of misunderstanding. It affects how people perceive us. We are people, not a punchline.

As I mentioned above, we went with friends who hadn’t seen it before. One of them commented that she hadn’t expected it to be so much about Alison’s father. It was an interesting comment, and it made me think.

Grown-up Alison spends a lot of time on stage, watching her younger selves, reflecting on her childhood, and coming to terms with her life through the cartoons that she is creating. When the actor playing Alison lurks without introspection, when she recites captions without illuminating the journey that each one reflects, she erases her own character’s role in controlling the story. That upsets the balance of the show, so that it feels more like Bruce’s story, told through Alison’s eyes, rather than Alison’s story in which Bruce plays a major part.

I did love seeing Fun Home again. It’s a brilliantly written show that holds so much meaning for me, and to countless other queer women who can finally see aspects of their own coming out on stage. But this production is problematic in a number of ways — each one directly linked to the parts of the show that make it meaningful to queer women. It’s a betrayal of the very reason I loved the show to begin with.

Also, it’s Pride Month. We still have plenty to fight for.

{This post wouldn’t exist without many conversations with Cynthia. These are her thoughts, too.}

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “It’s Pride Month. We’re still being erased.

  1. love what you wrote, especially about body language and the lurking thing. i saw the show saturday night and as i suspected would be true, kate shindle just did not embody the vibe and physical presence of a butch woman. where’s her swagger and bearing? and she seemed to be standing around or sitting randomly, and just kind of watching the action without processing. the show is supposed to take place as alison relived her life through drawing her comic, and i felt like in this production alison was just kind of…. there. talking really fast and often without real emotion regarding the events happening around her. i noticed less about the desexualization during the alison and joan scene, maybe just because i was so anxious watching that scene next to my dad. i could see that being an issue though, this tour really doesn’t seem to know how to respect and portray lesbians. oh how I wish i could cast, design, and direct this show… thank you for your post show thoughts!

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