by Sarah Congress · April 23, 2015
Sydney Lucas, Michael Cerveris | Joan Marcus
Tennessee Williams coined the phrase, “memory play,” when speaking of The Glass Menagerie arguing that a memory play “can be presented with unusual freedom of convention.” Fun Home, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, tells the story of Allison’s sexual awakening with flashback, music, and “freedom of convention.” From a show-stopping number sang by young Allison and her two siblings in a casket, to her first crush on a woman she spies in a diner, to nights spent in the car with her closeted-father driving through Pennsylvania, to her first time love-making in a tiny dorm room bed in Oberlin—Fun Home parallels Allison’s sexual birth, with the decline of her father’s—through the use of vivid, fluid, real, honest, sometimes painful memories.
A tremendously talented cartoonist, Allison, portrayed by the very likeable Beth Malone, is stuck on a comic drawing of her father, finding it difficult to look back in order to understand the man. But look back she does with the help of her younger self – Small Allison, played by the very energetic and bubbly Sydney Lucas and her two brothers, John and Christian. It seems that she had a very unconventional childhood - despite her father’s desperate efforts to produce the “picture-perfect” smudge-free house and family. The Father, Bruce – Michael Cerveris – was not only an English teacher, but a mortician, house-restorer, avid reader and intellect, and, it turns out, a philandering, young-boy chasing, homosexual. However, despite his complexities, it is clear to the audience – through Allison’s discussions with her college-girlfriend, Joan – that she deeply admires her father. Despite his criticisms, despite his disapproval of her passion for cartoons– which he deems not “as good” as “real” art, despite the hell his affairs took on her mother, the lies, the secrets, she still loves him.
But the play still had me wondering why. Why did Allison look up to her father so much? I wanted to see more moments, or really any tender moments, where her father gave her something positive to chew on. I also had a difficult time with the character of Helen – the Mom. The dialogue reveals that she was a well-educated and talented actress. So why was she throwing no punches at her husband and instead sitting complacently in the marriage?
The music – too – left me wanting more. The dialogue was so real, the choreography was so vibrant, the set enticing, creepy, and yet so honest – but the music I found easy to forget.
However Director Sam Gold was more than successful at weaving and blending a story of memory and emotion into an exciting, entertaining, relatable, heart-warming, theatrical event. I highly recommend seeing Fun Home – it truly is a fresh and unique experience.