By James Karas
Fun Home is anything but fun though it does tell a compelling story about coming of age, sexual awakening, concealment of homosexuality and the consequences of sex with underage boys. No, it is not about Catholic priests. It is well-acted, subtle and marvelous theatre. It is also an award-winning musical, a phrase that I hate but in this case it is appropriate what with accolades from the New York Drama Critics, an Obie, Tony awards and others.
Fun Home is written by Lisa Kron based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The story is told by Alison (Laura Condlin) as a mature woman looking back on her childhood as Small Alison (Hannah Levinson), as young woman in college, Medium Alison (Sara Farb) and life with her father Bruce (Evan Buliung) and her mother Helen (Cynthia Dale).
The story is told in a number of vignettes in non-chronological order that focus on events in the history of the Bechdel family. All is well, of course. Small Alison wants to play airplane with her father, the mother is playing the piano and the big house that has been restored and renovated by Bruce is becoming historical. The family runs a funeral business as well which is good fodder for some comedy.
Soon cracks appear in the happy family. Bruce is a closet homosexual who seduces a young student and goes cruising in the middle of the night. Disaster looms at every turn.
Medium Alison goes to college and slowly, painfully and joyously she discovers that she is a lesbian. She falls in love with Joan (Sabryn Rock) and finds sexual fulfillment. She tries to tell her father and there is biting sadness and irony in the attempted communication by one homosexual to another.
Helen, like most women, knows instinctively what is happening but she cannot say anything.
Buliung is very effective as the bisexual father who veers away from simple homosexuality and seeks sex with boys. He is arrested, goes to a psychiatrist and is basically destroyed by his sexual orientation. He does not need any music or singing to bring out his personal problems.
Which brings us to the “award winning musical.” Many people have expressed great admiration for the music and songs of Fun Home and I do not share it. No doubt it has its moments, but much of it is recitative that is eminently forgettable and, as I said, the play may be served better with dramatic prose.
Sara Farb as Medium Alison gives us an emotional and moving portrayal of a college student discovering that she is lesbian. Her agony and subsequent happiness are not helped by the music even if “Changing My Major” is supposed to describe her elation at discovering sexual pleasure.
“It All Comes Back,” the opening number, is no more than an immediately forgettable recitative that rises to stentorian levels and all it conveys can be told in simple prose.
“Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue,” an ensemble piece with spoken words by Bruce and “Not Too Bad” sung by Medium Alison, are two songs I could have done without them.
“Come to the Fun Home” sung by John (Liam MacDonald), Christian (Jasper Lincoln) and Small Alison as they jump in and out of a casket and dance generates considerable energy and fun as a parody of a commercial for a funeral home. That is one of the few exceptions.
Helen the mother is a secondary character and Cynthia Dale in the role gets only one big number, “Days and Days” and she does it well.
The musical does have a dramatic end but you need to see it to find out what it is.
Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori (music), Lisa Kron (book and lyrics, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel) continues until May 28, 2018 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com