Fun Home is joyous, tender and achingly personal. It deserves its five Tony awards; it’s definitely the best theatrical offering on Broadway at the moment.
The creative team behind this piece brings to the stage a kind of soundtrack of one’s everyday life – the constant everyday noise that we have in our heads, the welcoming or sometime intrusive noise from others around us and the nagging noise of our dream life, our devising of something better, unhappy with our current lot.
There are so many clever components that make up this piece. First of all, it’s a true story by Alison Bechdel that took ten years in the making. It’s performed in the round and the performers work hard to include the 360-degree sweep of audience. At the beginning we are told what will happen at the end, the climactic moment, and so of course we are focused on what leads to this end as the narrative unfolds. It spans 1 hour 45 minutes without an intermission; you definitely don’t need one. The setting is divided between an ordered family home groaning with antiques and a funeral parlour, the family business that’s euphemistically referred to as the Fun Home.
There is the omnipresent narrator, Alison, (Beth Malone) who works, as she puts it, as a lesbian cartoonist. At 43 years old, she takes us through her life’s peaks and troughs up until now. Malone does not leave the stage, not for one moment.
Malone shares to role of Alison with two other actors as we progress through Alison’s life and watch her at different stages. Small Alison, aged about 8, is played by the very talented Sydney Lucas who has been the darling of Broadway this year. Then there is the 18-year-old Alison (Emily Skeggs), at college, stepping out into life.
Fun Home covers topics such as: the fear of acknowledging for the first time that you are same-sex attracted, having a gay father who is closeted and in the end takes his own life because of the tangled web he has woven, and a mother who leads a life of quiet desperation.
Delicate themes are covered on stage and handled so well. Bechdel says that by writing her memoir she wanted to explore the ideas associated with family. What do our parents give us? How much does each generation before us mould us? She also wanted to give some testament to her parents’ chaotic lives, to show the great difficulty her closeted father experienced and the relative ease of her coming out at 18. To depict so well, on the Broadway stage, the pain of not being able to come out as a gay man in the middle stages of life, of living a clandestine life seeking out male company and the torment that a family has to endure because of this is an amazing feat.
Alison tries desperately to open the lines of communication with her father for whom she held such a candle when she realizes she is losing him. Her father, Bruce, (Michael Ceveris) explains to her, “It is much harder at an older age to begin.”
Funnily enough, the show is cute, amusing and lively for a lot of the time, it is not all darkness. For instance, Skeggs sings a very funny song after she has spent her first night with her new girlfriend, Joan. “I am Changing my Major to Joan” is hilarious and conveys perfectly the delight of first love. And this is the most stunning thing about this musical; the music and the dialogue are seamless. As with all good musical theatre, you become unaware that you are seguing back and forth into song and then dialogue. Also, the melodies and lyrics perfectly collude in conveying what is hard to say in a sentence on stage. The music by Jeanine Tesori and the book and lyrics by Lisa Kron conveys deep emotion, inner thoughts and to some extent, gives us the sublime on stage.
This is a wonderful theatrical depiction of a brilliant memoir and is thoroughly recommended.
Circle in the Square Theatre
235 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
Photo credit: Joan Marcus and Jenny Anderson