Theater Review: FUN HOME (National Tour)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 4, 2016

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Dedicated memory-mongering, the 2013 chamber musical Fun Home–based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 semiautobiographical graphic novel–is a worthy coming-out. We get the inside portrait of a lesbian daughter who learns more than she wanted from her gay dad. With serviceable songs by Jeanine Tesori and persuasive lyrics and dialogue by Barbara Whitman, this unpretentious one-act honors the mysteries that loved ones can become–transformed into ghosts before they’re gone.

Fun Home


Any unstinting quest for the past is bound to alter the present, happily or else. On display through November 13 at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, the national tour (through August 2017) honors the honesty of a much-praised, true-life, 100-minute confessional. The first Broadway musical with a lesbian lead, it tells many tales in one, as if to make up for lost time.


43-year-old cartoonist Alison (Kate Shindle) reclaims her back history by dividing herself up–her present self, as well as “small” and “medium” Alisons, each registering no more than she knew at the time. Spooling out chronologically, the life of Alison becomes a series of complex reactions to her secretive, insular and, ultimately, suicidal father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Collateral damage, Alison’s mother Helen (Susan Moniz) can only lament the loveless drudgery of an unmanageable marriage (‘Days and Days”).


With the laser vision of early impressions, 10-year-old Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) returns us to the title Pennsylvania funeral home managed by her closeted, driven dad Bruce. In a home that felt more like a house, small Alison remembers good things like their playing “airplane” and other stuff such as the local lads–customers, yard workers or students–who Bruce patronizes with a passion.


She sees Bruce as both a mortician doubling as a fussbudget decorator bent on restoring their home to Victorian splendor and a clueless control freak who, lacking direction of his own, ironically tells her how to draw maps. (She must also wear dresses, not jean jackets.) Witnessing her parents’ internecine warfare, including her father’s dangerous dalliances with minors, she prefers imaginary domesticity like the Partridges (“Rainbow of Love”).


At the same time, college-age Alison (Abby Corrigan) shyly visits the Gay Student Union and falls hard for Joan (the delightful “Changing My Major”), a no-nonsense, reassuringly secure young lover. She comes out by writing home, an overture that’s never followed by an opera, soap or otherwise.


That’s basically the emotional stand-off or psychological impasse that Fun Home circles obsessively, a daughter both for and against a dad. Here what isn’t said or doesn’t happen, like the frustratingly inconclusive “Telephone Wire,” where adult Allison and Bruce take a ride that should have happened, counts even more than treacherous memories that mutate in retrospection. What might have been can haunt, plaguing folks who don’t believe in ghosts.


Flawlessly performed by an ensemble who seem family in their own right, Fun Home manages to move beyond a valedictory tale of children learning from parents’ lies. Bechdel’s depiction of a necessarily incomplete and fatally unfinished Bruce is ringingly balanced by three Alisons who forge an imagined whole greater than her life. The fun may be ironic but the feelings register and relate in all directions.


alessandra-baldacchino-as-small-alison-with-kathe-shindle-background-as-alison-in-fun-homephotos by Joan Marcus

Fun Home
national tour presented by Broadway in Chicago
at the Oriental Theatre
ends on November 13, 2016
for tickets, call 213.972.4400
or visit Broadway in Chicago
tour continues until August, 2017
for dates and cities, visit Fun Home

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