Have you ever attended a performance of a show that everyone has raved about and you can’t quite put your finger on what doesn’t feel right for you?
Let me start by stating all that I loved about FUN HOME running at the Public Theater in NYC.
I love musicals with heavy subject matters and this fits the bill. Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, the story is that of a girl raised in a funeral home, growing up as a lesbian and discovers her own father is gay. While in college, her dad committed suicide and at 43 years old, she looks back on her life to attempt to make sense of it all.
Being a memory play, the staging and sets are brilliant. There is a vast open space that revolves and turns and furniture is moved around – all as if moving around inside of Alison’s mind. Jumbled the way we often do our memories. As my friend pointed out, a ‘fun house’ is all about smoke and mirrors and that’s exactly what this feels like. On the surface, the family seems normal, but peel back the layers – look into the fun-house mirror and you’ll see things are not as they appear.
I absolutely love Jennie Tesori’s music (Violet, Carolyn or Change) and the score for this show is pulsating and alive. Playwright/Lyricist is Tony-nominated Lisa Kron (an open lesbian herself) and she aptly captures the young Alison’s internal discovery of changes going on in her mind. Young Alison singing of an older woman’s outfit (including her ring of keys), college Alison singing of changing her major to Joan – all beautifully and smartly done.
The performances are top notch. Three actresses play Alison at different times of her life – all wonderfully. There is young Alison played by Sydney Lucas with so much spunk as she plays with her brothers in the ‘fun home’ – which they’ve dubbed the funeral home in which they live. Her interactions with her father are those that time can change when recalling or maybe they were the truth. This play is all about things not being what they seem. Alexandra Socha plays the college-aged Alison and I found her acting and singing to be so vibrant and engaging as she awkwardly attempts to traverse the halls of Oberlin College, she had me all the way at the back of the house. Beth Malone plays older Alison – always on stage – always remembering every moment as some type of Rachel Madow reporter – commenting on what we are seeing. She has an incredible voice and I loved the song she sang in the car with her father. She goes in and out of the present and past seamless – all aided in the wonderful direction by Sam Gold.
Her father is such a well layered written role. I love everything I’ve ever seen Michael Cerveris do and this is not an exception. Playing a dad who wants things done a certain way (even how the family cleans the house). A closeted man attempting normalcy in the 70s when it was harder to come out of the closet. A man not quite right, something feeling ‘off’ about him and not just his struggle with his sexuality. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a show and thought ‘man, I want to play that role!’
Judy Kuhn plays the mother and while she is a gifted actress, the role is smaller as the story focuses on that of Allison trying to understand her father, but we get a sense of this woman who sacrificed a great deal. Four others round out the cast as siblings, the college girlfriend, and a man that plays the different guys that come in and out of the dad’s life.
With all of that said and the rave reviews the show is getting, I should have leapt to my feet at curtain call. And yet, I felt empty at the show’s end. Perhaps that was what I was meant to feel. In life, things are not always resolved, and in this family drama full of angst and heartache, resolve isn’t always found. And yet – I’m more drawn to the father/son dramaplaying uptown that is closing at the end of December to not as favorable reviews.
Maybe I went in with such high expectations because of the raves and was let down. I wish I could articulate how I feel about this piece. I felt sadness for Alison. It seems as if she has spent her entire adult life attempting to come to terms with something she’d never be able to fix. And in a 100 minute musical with no intermission, perhaps that hole I felt was exactly what this creative team had in mind.