|Arden Theatre Company's deeply complex Fun Home
posted by Ralph Malachowski on May 31, 2018 10:30am | comments
The Arden Theatre Company closes its 30th season with a new production of Fun Home.
Fun Home is the hit Tony-award-winning play that opened on Broadway in 2015. Based on the 2006 graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is a musical by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron which explores the complicated Bechdel family of Pennsylvania. We meet the 43-year-old Alison (wondefuly played by Mary Tuomanen) who is contemplating her father who committed suicide at age 43. Alison’s recollections are the framework of the musical, from her childhood to her going to college, to her coming out as a lesbian to her parents, to her soul-searching of the present day.
The Bechdels we meet are already wed, having lived in an apartment on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village before moving into the family homestead to raise a family. It is there that Helen Bechdel (Kim Carson) and Bruce Bechdel (Ben Dibble) raised their three children, Alison, John, and Christian (played by Kate Bove, Lyam David-Kilker, and Charles Lamonica). Bruce not only teaches English, but also runs the family business, a funeral home, hence the children’s joke about calling it “Fun Home.” As a passionate hobby, both have created and maintain a museum-quality historic house, of which Bruce is proud. Helen admonishes her children to get into their trained mode of doing their chores to get the house ready for visitors, delivered in a drill-sergeant manner, which leads into “Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue.” Helen even calms her jittery husband by giving him distinct, methodical orders to get ready while all is taken care of. From there we glimpse the ordinary lives of small children living under extraordinary conditions in an historic house which doubles as a funeral home run by super-efficient parents.
Another dimension then blossoms when Dad is seen carrying a dogwood tree he has just taken from an abandoned property nearby. When actor Ben Dibble’s Bruce Bechdel enters wearing a tight, white T-shirt and denim hot pants, many in the audience laughed. Mr. Dibble as Bruce looked way too hot for a dad. A fact we are often reminded of during the play, when he sings “Not too bad,” or when Alison’s lesbian lover at college screams, “That’s your dad?” when shown a family photo. Dad tends to have young, male lovers (Robert Hager in a number of roles), one of whom becomes the family handyman and babysitter.
Time passes, and Alison’s siblings are never heard from again. She is now at college (Alison is now finely played by Izzy Castaldi), and deciding that she is a lesbian. She is abetted in this decision by a passionate affair she has with a student, Joan (wonderfully underplayed by Jackie Soro), which prompts Alison to sing the slyly witty, “I’m changing my major to Joan.”
All pretense of normality at home is shattered by Alison’s coming-out letter to her parents. Her mother waits for Alison to visit with her lover, where she delivers her scathing indictment of her husband. It appears that having a lesbian daughter and a gay husband is too much for Helen. Helen is a curious character: she knowingly had three children with a man she knew was gay. Bruce refused to label himself as gay, since to do so in 1960s or 1970s America would have meant not only social and professional suicide, but open himself to charges of being mentally ill.
Fun Home deals with heartbreak in an emotional way which is never maudlin nor is it preachy. The credit for this is the skill that director Terry Nolen and creators Tesori, Kron, and Bechdel bring to the work as they present serious ideas along with comedy. Fun Home should be looked at in a broader sense, that being gay or lesbian in the 1960s and 1970s was not something to be proud of, or even acknowledged, but hidden. A cautionary lesson we must be reminded of in this new, politically repressive age.
Fun Home is now at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia until June 17. For further information, to buy tickets, or to subscribe to their 2018-2019 season, visit www.ardentheatre.org