FUN HOME is fun, tragic, intelligent, witty

@ the Orpheum, December 13-18
Fun Home Ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Fun Home Ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A few years ago Lisa Kron wrote the book and lyrics for a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. With the aid of composer Jeanine Tesori the result was the 2015 Tony Award winning, FUN HOME, now at the Orpheum.

Even if you have had your surfeit of memoirs over the last few decades this one is the genuine article. The music eschews simple melodies for more complex work. The lyrics advance the plot and reveal character. The set is finely detailed for a touring company show and the lighting is exceptional, especially in the sequences when the lights expose the noir-ish aspects of graphic art.

In the opening scene of FUN HOME the character Alison (Kate Schindle) a mature woman of about forty stands at her drawing table, lit by a single lamp, puzzling over drafts of her graphic memoir. She is caught in a dichotomy: “I am a very public lesbian cartoonist; my father was a closeted gay man who committed suicide.” From there the play flashes back to the 1970’s to tell you her story. “Small Alison” (Alessandra Baldacchino) appears at age twelve and sings a song we can almost all relate to, “Dad, hey Daddy, listen to me.” The family of Bechdels all appear and we are off into the play.

It takes some doing to keep the dramatic tension in a musical that tells you its story from the get go. No need for spoiler alerts in this review, the audience knows what happens from the beginning. The reason this play works is because its interest lies in the fact that the audience knows the family’s secrets and their outcome. We want to see how the story unravels point by point. Alison’s father, rather stoically played by Robert Petkoff, plies a young man in the living room with sherry while his wife Helen (Susan Moniz) plays Chopin in the next room.

Alison is a completely sympathetic character and by the time the college freshman version of Alison, listed in the program as “Medium Alison” (Abby Corrigan) appears as the burgeoning lesbian the audience is overjoyed when she sings “I’m Changing my Major (to Joan).”

FUN HOME plays in the crease of time when having a closeted gay father and an activist lesbian daughter was a likely possibility given the social mores of the time. It is this balancing act between the years 1976 and 1984 that the play exploits.

There are only a few weak moments in the show. One is when the ensemble makes a rough transition to “Everything’s Alright When We’re Together” complete with disco ball. Nothing in the late Victorian decorating tastes of the Bechdel family gives this any validity. But FUN HOME is fun. It’s also tragic, intelligent, and witty with more than a few twists of irony.

The play ends with a medley sung by the three iterations of Alison. The final shot is a projection of the graphic that Alison is working on for her memoir. It is almost unnecessary. The artistic company has done its work of bringing the collage of the author’s family alive on stage already.

 

 

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