Feature

Fun Home

Underlying this show’s powerful themes is a universal mystery: “how we never fully know even those closest to us.”

The Public Theater, New York City
(212) 967-7555

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It’s “something of a miracle” what this inventive show manages to achieve after casting aside the conventions of musical theater, said Jesse Green in New York magazine. The task of adapting Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic-novel-style memoir about her closeted gay father and her own coming-of-age was never going to be a routine assignment. But gifted artists can occasionally “pick through the remnants of a tarnished art form to make a new kind of story shine,” and that’s what has happened here. Instead of writing only full-length songs, composer Jeanine Tesori often intersperses the dialogue with “yearning fragments and bits of refrains.” Rather than streamlining Bechdel’s complex narrative, playwright Lisa Kron took chance after chance to pack much of it in. “As the last half hurtles toward the unbearable ending you already know is coming,” a viewer also can’t help noticing that one crucial tradition has been preserved: “musical theater’s unparalleled capability for expressing emotion.”

Much to its credit, Fun Home is “a musical that isn’t afraid to reveal its awkward side,” said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. Three actresses play the author at different ages: Beth Malone is Alison at 43 looking back, Alexandra Socha is a college-age Alison coming to terms with her homosexuality, and Sydney Lucas is 8-year-old Alison growing up with siblings in a restored Victorian and in the family funeral home lorded over by their tortured dad. But the “hectic muddle” of the show’s start eventually feels like a fitting way to honor Bechdel’s questioning, self-aware sensibility, and the night is eventually saved by “a wayward honesty that only deepens as the story unfolds.”

At a time when most musicals “seem to turn their inhabitants into cartoons,” Fun Home somehow does the opposite, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Alison’s father, Bruce, comes across as an “intricately angry” man, but with Tony winner Michael Cerveris in the role, we also see the “special, ambivalent bond” that ties Alison to her father even as he’s erupting “in ways that keep his family forever off balance.” After struggling to repress his homosexual urges, Bruce Bechdel died at 44 in an apparent suicide, which may make Alison’s story sound almost too unique. But underlying the show’s other powerful themes is a universal mystery: “how we never fully know even those closest to us.”

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