The Blumenthal Theater continues to establish itself as a noted platform for the various arts that take the stage and this year’s presentation of ‘Fun Home’ was no exception. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, the musical follows the autobiographical story of Alison Bechdel as she reflects on her upbringing as a closeted and bursting out of the closet lesbian and how that revealed itself in distinct periods in her life as well as affecting her familial relationships, most notably with her father. The play is collection of vignettes of Alison’s childhood and college years narrated by her adult cartoonist self and it is this format that the audience simultaneously understands the development of her ‘coming-of-age’ and allows a wider empathetic understanding of the socially complex issue of gender identity and orientation.
The play opens with a window rural suburban Pennsylvania, an important detail when considering the context of the themes, and we see a young Alison and her siblings playing in an antiquated decorated house. From here we learn that Alison’s father is a funeral director and high school teacher while her mother is a talented pianist and musician. Childhoods are remarkable for anyone and though it isn’t immediate from the start where Alison’s tendencies lie, the playfulness of the scenes and child actors indicate the universal desire the youth have to make fun of the world as they seek to understand it. This even presents itself when the kids perform the major upbeat title number in the Funeral home, or ‘Fun Home’ putting alongside one another death and youthful glee.
Early on and of marked interest is the relationship of Alison and her father and how they are as equally similar as they are different. While both have a deep appreciation of the arts, Alison prefers comics while her Dad goes for a more classical approach, Alison enjoys reading but still makes time for television while her father turns off what he would appropriately call a ‘boob tube’. Alison has described the relationship as her being “Spartan to her Dad’s Athenian”. As the play unwinds, the similarities of their relationship grow to a profound understanding that lies as a keystone to the play at large.
It is the college years that Alison was able to do discover herself, separated from the confined residential neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, and with an introduction to a young woman named Joan, a leading member of the ‘gay’ club. In this new environment Alison comes out and finds both emotional and physical release in Joan that opens the floodgates to the woman she is today. The pleasant, funny, and awkwardly lyrical ballad is one of the more memorable songs from the stage.
Fun Home manages to tread through these different stages of life through scene selection and reflection while allowing any number its cast a moment to take center stage and melodize their emotions, though Alison and her father rightfully get the lionshare of the songs. The decor of each scene is compact but thought out detail and they manage to get on one stage both the interior of a reminiscent home complete with fine furniture and grand piano placed strategically in front of a stage band that provides the music for the presentation of the events. The music itself is fairly fitting and despite the context of the play, ranges from the melancholic to the more uplifting. Of the instrumentation, the standout was likely the clarinet which crept into your ear in select moments expressing originality of the the composer though admittedly the overall score was reasonably safe in its modern musical approach.
The importance of Fun Home as a play is that it is a story of one person to another ofe one in the consistently marginalized group of homosexuals. We’re told a fairly complete story of the trials and tribulations that come with the territory unfamiliar to most of the on-going audience members. Newspapers and headlines do very little in advancing progress without arousing anger and frustration on most social issues and so it is through the arts the provide a method of addressing the paradoxes of the world in a traditionally safe and neutral environment. If anyone wonders if work like this is still neccessary, take note that this is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protaganist, so much efforts are still in need until the ‘gayness’ is no longer seen as either a stigma or novelty, but the play itself is representative of the progress of today.
Fun Home, the graphic novel on which it was based hit the newsstands in 2006 and quickly established itself as a runaway spending multiple weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, garnering a nomination of the National Book Critics Circle Award and winning a coveted Eisner award as well.