“I leapt out of the closet, and four months later, my father killed himself by stepping in front of a truck” –Alison Bechdel.
Fun Home is a coming-of-age story, a coming home story, and a coming-out story.
Alison and her two brothers live in a small, Pennsylvania town with their closeted gay father, as well as their poor mother who pretends not to notice and who puts up with his extra-marital meanderings. Their father works as a high school English teacher and a funeral home (aka “Fun Home”) director, along with doing other odd jobs. He seems more interested in his books, keeping both his historic house and himself cleaned and polished, and attracting the attention of attractive young men, than he is in the well-being of his family.
We watch as Alison grows up, comes to terms with her own gayness as well as that of her father her first semester at Oberlin College, and eventually becomes a successful cartoonist and artist. We get to see the young girl struggling for her father’s love and approval, the college student coming out as a lesbian, and the 43-year-old adult still coping with her father’s suicide. And sometimes we see all three of them simultaneously.
This show has everything: furniture polish, beer, butch dykes, parent-child dynamics, and damask linen. There is a dead mouse, dead humans, queer symbolism (along with more blatant gayness), sex, 70s wardrobes, violence, and Chopin. Fun Home runs the full range of funny to heartbreaking, and in addition to the humor and heavier emotional stuff, there is a powerful message about human strength and being true to who you really are. Director Blake Coheley says of the show, “It’s art at its highest,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Highlights of the show include the “Fun Home” song, where the kids dance in, on, and around a coffin while singing about smelling salts, formaldehyde, and embalming fluid. And, “I’m Changing My Major to Joan,” where “Medium Alison,” after her first lesbian experience, wants to give up her studies to focus exclusively on her new girlfriend.
All three of the Alisons (Small, Medium, and Adult) are skillfully portrayed and beautifully sung. Seventh grader Camille Burkey, in the role of young Alison; Taylor Lewis playing college-student Alison; and Chrissy Bowen as all-grown-up, retrospective Alison are just three stars among a very talented cast. Jason Dowies as Bruce Bechdel, the father, and Leslie Castay as the mother, Helen Bechdel, both likewise deserve mad props for their performances. And speaking of props, even the minimalist set design and the constant reshuffling of props to change the scenery are seamlessly executed. The scene changes are themselves, therefore, yet another entertaining part of the show.
Fun Home won five Tonys for its Broadway production, and now Southern Rep Theatre (now in its 31st year) is bringing this award-winning show to New Orleans. With only one more weekend to go in Fun Home’s run and a tendency to sell out, you’ll want to get your tickets as soon as possible. This is definitely one show you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss.
Fun Home’s last weekend runs from Thursday, October 19, thru Sunday, October 22, at NOCCA’s NIMS Black Box Theatre. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday thru Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. NOCCA is located at 2800 Chartres St. in the Bywater. For more information or to buy tickets, go to southernrep.com.
Photos by John B. Barrois.