Review by Lauryn Angel
Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name. A widely-recognized masterpiece, Bechdel’s memoir parallels her experiences of her awakening sexuality with her father’s path toward self-destruction and suicide. The musical gives us the story through Alison at three different stages in her life: childhood (Carly Gold), college-aged Alison (Abby Corrigan), and the grown-up Alison (Kate Shindle), grappling with her memories in the wake of her father’s death.
The story shifts between Alison’s childhood and her college years, with the adult Alison on stage mostly as an observer, offering interstitial commentary as the plot shifts between the years. Young Alison’s storyline tells of the family’s struggle to meet her father’s exacting standards. Bruce Bechdel is a high-school English teacher and funeral director obsessed with historical restoration. He is overly concerned with outward appearances and respectability, while at the same time grappling with his closeted homosexuality. College Alison realizes that she is a lesbian and encounters the excitement of first love and political action. The play moves fluidly between the two time periods, with adult Alison providing contextual transitions.
The performances are all wonderful. Kate Shindle as the adult Alison and Robert Petkoff as Bruce are the standout performances, but Susan Moniz almost steals the show with Helen’s ballad “Days and Days.” The setting is minimal to begin with, but, when the Bechdel home and Bruce’s restoration work is fully revealed, also opulent. The presence of a small orchestra on stage, just out of sight, adds to the feeling of intimacy in the production, as if all is laid bare for the audience to examine.
As a fan of Bechdel’s original memoir, I admit that I was both curious and skeptical as to how it would play out as a musical – even Alison Bechdel herself had her doubts. Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori have created a fantastic adaptation that must not be missed.
Fun Home runs through September 24 at the Winspear Opera House.