Coming to terms with one’s past can be a challenge for most people – but for Alison Bechdel, who intently wonders if her coming out as a lesbian during college resulted in the suicide of her troubled, closeted homosexual father, it’s a particularly difficult journey. This provocative story has been bravely explored by Bechdel in her celebrated graphic novels. Now, it has been translated to the stage in the ambitious, extremely moving musical “Fun Home” at the Public Theater.
This primarily sung-through piece, featuring a score by Tony Award nominee Jeanine Tesori and book/lyrics by award-winning playwright Lisa Kron, takes the unusual tactic of presenting Alison at three different stages of her life – sometimes simultaneously: the 40something Alison (a fine Beth Malone), a cartoonist desperately searching for answers; the college-aged Allison (the excellent Alexandra Socha), who finally admits the truth to herself about her sexuality after meeting fellow lesbian Joan (a convincing Roberta Colindrez); and “small” Allison (the pitch-perfect Sydney Lucas) who, even as a young child, rebels against conventional notions of femininity.
It’s the youngest Allison who also seems aware of the tensions in the marriage of her parents, even if she doesn’t fully grasp what’s going on. (The work’s title is ironic, since they call the funeral home the “fun home” but the family’s Pennsylvania abode is no barrel of laughs.) Her dad, Bruce (the always stunning Michael Cerveris) is an often-distant, sometimes loving man who teaches English, restores homes, runs his family’s funeral parlor -- and fools around with local men and boys (all played by the hunky Joel Perez). Meanwhile, Helen (the gifted Judy Kuhn), a teacher and amateur actress, sits by almost helplessly as her carefully constructed world is almost destroyed by one of Bruce’s ill-considered dalliances. (Audiences will wish that Tesori had given this superb vocalist more to sing than the one gorgeous ballad she performs flawlessly late in the 100-minute show.)
Director Sam Gold and his first-rate design team (notably David Zinn, who is responsible for the extraordinary set and costumes) perfectly capture the various periods of the piece, including showing vintage television shows. (He even throws in a few amusing set pieces, including a virtual re-creation of a Partridge Family song!). However, Gold does his best work in bringing out the show’s quietest moments, as when Helen finally confesses to the college-aged Allison the truth about her marriage.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Griffin Birney, Michael Cerveris, Roberta Colindrez, Noah Hinsdale, Judy Kuhn, Sydney Lucas, Beth Malone, Joel Perez, Alexandra Socha
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New York, NY 10003