There’s a lot to relate to in Fun Home. Even if you’ve never suspected someone close to you might be gay, or questioned your own sexuality, or the sexuality of one of your parents, or spent your life trying to please someone who could never be happy in their own skin – there’s a lot to relate to. Haven’t we all had times of recalling something from the past only to wonder if we’re actually remembering it the way it really happened, or some version of what happened as seen through our own lens…and needs? Haven’t we all had times of thinking back to our younger selves, wishing we could have offered that young one some comfort, compassion and wisdom in order to save them/ourselves from what was to come? Those are some of the things Fun Home, playing at the Ellie through January 22, is about. It’s definitely not about a happy family, in case that’s what you thought you were getting yourself into.
The format of Fun Home is very clever. The narrator is 43-year-old Alison, a cartoonist who we are, in essence, watching create a record of her life in words and pictures. We also see young Alison, who is around 11, simultaneously angry at her father but also eager to please him. Then, there’s 18-year-old Alison, just off to college, figuring out that all those unusual feelings she had growing up were really about her being gay. Funny enough (not), her dad is also gay, the worst-kept secret in the small town in which the family lives. Dad is a tortured soul who, because he has spent years and years living a lie, tortures everyone around him, the people who least deserve it. Mom has spent years trying to hold her family together, wrangling the kids to get the house fixed up just the way Dad expects it, putting up with his dalliances, doing everything she can to keep things at some level of calm and normalcy. Her songs about keeping things the way he wants them and the days after days after days that she has passed in her disappointing life are wrenching.
The story is in layers, not only with adult Alison present for her past but also because it meanders in and out of time and remembering versions of things. It’s also in dichotomies. There’s a big, happy, flashy dance number, akin to a Partridge Family episode that’s simultaneously fun but also sad because it’s Alison trying to remember her life in happy, tra-la-la ways. College-gal Alison has a very different personality than her younger and older selves. Compared to the jaded and wounded bookend versions of herself, the college girl is funny, quirky, charming and disarming. As she discovers that she’s gay and discovers her first love, she’s so lovable, we just want to go up on stage, give her a big hug and call her “sweetie.” Too bad her parents didn’t see it that way – Alison looked to her Dad for some sense of commonality between them and didn’t get it. And her Mom only saw a reflection of how torturing homosexuality had been in their family.
When you go, and you should, take note of the article in DCPA’s program, Applause magazine. Instead of the usual feature article explaining how the show came to be, we see the real Alison’s (Alison Bechdel) comic book-style account of how her book was turned into a Broadway show and how crazy that has been to see her words, her life, her family’s life, played out for the world to see. And how she’d like to imagine her parents react when they see it, which they didn’t. “I can’t help wondering what they would make of seeing themselves turned into characters on the stage,” she says.
Thank goodness there is no intermission in Fun Home which always breaks the spell a little. Instead, we are there, drawn in, pulled along for the ride, up and down, over and out, laughing, gasping, doing the silent theater-cry, trying to inconspicuously wipe away the tears streaming down your face – lots of people, believe me. We are under the spell, as really good theater is able to do, like the characters, losing ourselves and trying to find our balance.
I also recommend you watch this video which features the 5-time, Tony award-winning Broadway cast including Colorado’s own Beth Malone who is brilliant. It also gives behind-the-scenes discussion that is really interesting.
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