Theater: Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’ graphic memoir is now a musical

A middle-aged Alison assesses her childhood for ways things might have turned out differently.  Credit: Joan Marcus
In “Fun Home,” Alison Bechdel assesses her childhood for ways things might have turned out differently.
Credit: Joan Marcus

If you don’t know Alison Bechdel, you might feel like you do after reading her candid graphic memoir, “Fun Home.” Now, you’ll find the same frank familiarity in the comic’s musical adaptation, directed by Sam Gold, onstage at The Public Theater.

The story is an introspective on Bechdel’s childhood, spurred by a family tragedy. Our illustrator-cum-narrator is a lesbian who learns as an adult that her father was also gay. Upon his suicide, she ponders the truths and lies buried in the foundation their home life — including omissions and concessions from her worn-down mother.

Maybe that all sounds too serious for a night on the town? Nope: “Fun Home” is a side-splitting, self-deprecating tour de force, with just the right amount of insight (it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers). The structure seems built for fiction, but is surprisingly true to real life: Bechdel’s family runs a funeral home — or as the kids call it: “fun home.” The renovation hobbyist father (Michael Cerveris) is sleeping with the handyman (Joel Perez) while the mother (Judy Kuhn) sits in the next room. Teen Alison (Alexandra Socha) anxiously and awkwardly circles the LGBT group on her college campus, like a dog before it settles, after a lifetime struggle with butch identity and pink dresses.

All the while, Bechdel ponders if she was always seeking her father’s approval and why she could never have it. The narrative balances childlike naivete with a grown-up analysis of the clues and cues dropped along the way. Indeed, child Alison (Sydney Lucas) and adult Alison (Beth Malone) are often onstage at the same time, the latter assessing the former’s every move for a hint that the future could have unfolded differently.

As a bonus, the music — by Tony Award nominees Jeanine Tesori (composer) and Lisa Kron (lyrics, script) — is absolutely gorgeous. And the leads, notably the triumvirate Alisons, are exactly on point, carving out emotional, comedic and melodic precision. But this entire cast, much like the Bechdels’ endlessly restored home, is more than the sum of its parts.

‘Fun Home’
Extended (for the third time) through Dec. 15
The Public Theater,
425 Lafayette St.
Pricing starts at $96.50,
www.publictheater.org


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