Entertainment » Theatre

Fun Home

by Kayla Miller
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jan 5, 2017
Fun Home

Underlying "Fun Home" is a common trope: adult yearning for renewed opportunities to mend disconnections with one's parents -- to be honest, ask the questions never voiced. While audiences may find resonance in this, "Fun Home" complicates the familiar by documenting an even more nuanced and complex situation than child-parent relationships. This central thrust is convoluted by the details -- a gay father, a cold mother, a history of affairs, a lesbian daughter -- all intertwined with low-key child rape and a haunting suicide. Suddenly, the trope is less recognizable.

Based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel by the same name, "Fun Home" won five 2015 Tony awards, which included making history as the first musical written exclusively by women to win Best Musical. It chronicles the life and familial relationships of its narrator, Alison, a lesbian raised by intellectual parents in their family funeral home (the titular "fun home").

Alison appears as three persons: the child, played by Alessandra Baldacchino, the collegiate dyke, played by Abby Corrigan, and the adult narrator writing a graphic novel about memories of her father, played by Kate Shindle. This layered interpretation of experience involves the adult narrator in the lives of her earlier selves. Standing over her childhood self, grown Alison takes notes.

These notes are the play's driving force. "Fun Home" opens on the Bechdel children and mother Helen, played by Susan Moniz, as they meticulously prepare their home for father Bruce, played by Robert Petkoff. The first song establishes a theme that runs throughout the production: "he wants," which could be an alternative title for the work at large.

Bruce, a lover of antiques and home restoration, is tempestuous and prone to unpredictable bouts of rage. He wants and wants -- wants his family to be picture perfect, wants his children's admiration, wants to control the lives of those around him, wants to drug and rape teenage boys while demonizing wife Helen.

As the neglected-wife-turned-cold mother, Susan Moniz as Helen is convincing and dominates one of the play's most emotionally-charged moments; her song "Days and Days" is a powerful one elaborating upon how the minutia of life's injustices compiles incrementally. "Fun Home's" poignant climax showcases the vocal skills of Shindle as adult Alison; Corrigan as collegiate Alison provides the play with its most robust comic relief. The unquestionable talent of Baldacchino as child-Alison shines.

This is a production that seems to lavish in uncomfortable pairings -- children singing and dancing in an advertisement for their family funeral home, an academic father who preys on his high school students, a lesbian who positions her experiences of sexuality alongside her father's predatory behavior.

Ultimately, "Fun Home" seeks to parallel Alison's quest for (homo)sexual discovery with her father's ongoing homosexuality. It juxtaposes college-aged Alison as she first visits the Gay Union on campus and has her first girlfriend with her adult observations and childhood experiences. Like the graphic novel, it aims to tease out questions of the disconnect between Alison and her father despite their shared sexualities.

Although this effort is a real one, the specter of much larger horrors haunts the wings of this production. The question of repeated childhood rape and drugging minors is ignored; it is this erasure that enables the attempts to parallel Alison's burgeoning and consensual sexual acts with her father's illicit "wants." It is not onstage happenings but the unsaid that makes "Fun Home" disturbing; notably, the word "rape" is absent.

Alongside technicolor and show tunes is a lurking beast, unacknowledged but present. Mining the experiences of Alison and her father to unearth and forge connections, "Fun Home" equivocates their two sexualities, despite the gulf between Alison's sexuality and her father's.

"Fun Home's" musical numbers, lighting, and comic relief delight, while its occlusions terrify. This quagmire of juxtaposition creates an uncanny effect for audiences, and will undoubtedly leave viewers with much to discuss on their journeys home.

"Fun Home" runs through January 8 at the Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Avenue in Las Vegas. For tickets or information, visit www.thesmithcenter.com/event/fun-home.

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