In 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner tackled interracial marriage with a white woman coming home to her liberal parents with an African American fiancé that was entirely above reproof. John Prentice is a celebrated doctor working with the United Nations and is Sidney Poitier-handsome. The film was notable for being one of the first to portray interracial marriage in a positive light, and went on to win multiple awards, including the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
On a summer weekend in 2015 I saw two shows that would sweep the next two Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. As remarkable as Hamilton was, I had a much bigger experience the previous night with Fun Home. There are only a handful of times in my life that I walked out of a theatre thinking “We have to do this show.” I laughed, I cried, it was, in fact, better than Cats.
The greatness of Fun Home is not because the protagonist is a lesbian, but it is inextricably tied into it. Two of the most memorable songs in the show, “Ring of Keys” and “Changing My Major” are explorations of Alison Bechdel’s queerness at two different ages. It is a about difficult family dynamics that just about anyone can relate to, and it is a unapologetically gay story.
Fun Home is a bit like John Prentice. It is a mainstream, Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize finalist with an incredible score, complex characters, and an accessible, relatable story. Its credentials are unassailable.
I love our production, and the audiences have been raving. “Perfection” “A gold standard for VSC” “Wahooo!” I sat in the audience this weekend and was reminded how exciting it is to be in a theatre full of people who are in it. And some patrons are struggling with the content. Which is unsurprising.
I will admit that my initial response to the few complaints that Fun Home is somehow an “agenda” play were dismissive. “This is a play about family, not politics.” I reasoned. But those complaints stuck with me, and made me examine my own reaction. Fun Home is absolutely an agenda play - and here it is:
Virginia Stage Company is committed to serving our entire community. That commitment will be reflected in the stories we tell and the artists we hire. We strive to be a space that is not simply welcoming, but affirming.
This affirmation, that we are all equal members of this community that are equally deserving of respect and love, extends in all directions. There are patrons who primarily want to see “real theatre” like Fun Home, and others who will only come to comedies. There are people who will be drawn to The Bluest Eye because they love Toni Morrison, and those who will only come to something they can bring their kids to like Matilda. Not every play is for everybody, and that is okay. We can disagree on issues, but we must come together around basic respect for each other as human beings.
This is what we are here for - to bring this often fractured, divided community together. Sometimes to share a laugh, other times to learn about someone different from us. There are few spaces left where people unlike each other come and share an experience, and we are proud to be one of them. Virginia Stage Company invites you to join the community conversation.
Producing Artistic Director