It is seemingly miraculous to take the story of a lesbian cartoonist coming out in juxtaposition to a closeted, gay effete father and tug the heart strings until they elicit tears of triumphant joy. Victory Gardens Theater’s Fun Home gives repressed longing its stage turn with panache. The music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron make the specificity of this story universal in appeal.
Fun Home is right-sized at Victory Gardens Theater
The 2015 Tony Award-wining Broadway sensation, Fun Home, comes to Victory Gardens ready-made with theater credentials. The size of this particular stage creates an experience of intimacy this story needs. Adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, the story of the pathos of a lesbian and a repressed gay father has a distinct queer sensibility that might be lost in bigger houses. At Victory Gardens, we see small, medium and full-grown versions of Alison spin fodder for life from a charmingly dysfunctional family life. It’s subtlety writ large — each musical number, something to be savored.
A Father/Daughter Thing
Bruce Bechdel, played by Rob Lindley carries fatherhood as a closeted gay man with unique charisma, flamboyance and pain. “Welcome to Our House On Maple Avenue” is a production number sweetly portraying three small siblings living with a perfectionist who wants a household perpetually polished and shining. It is the close scrutiny of his daughter Alison that yanks the heart-strings that any father and daughter will relate to. The yearning in the song “Telephone Wire” is palpable. The question “So how does it feel to know you and I are both…” remains a question avoided. There is an unmistaken love between daughter Alison and her father Bruce. Each time they attempt to bridge the gap, honesty seems to elude them.
A Woman Scorned — A Woman Born
Helen Bechdel, played by carefully quaffed and be-pearled McKinley Carter is a wife and mother oozing scorn. The ensemble sings “Helen’s Etude” — Mom practicing her tightly-clipped piano solo while her husband seduces young Roy, the hired hand with the button-popping pecs. Alison observes, it's like a 1950s lesbian pulp novel, the stuff of her mother’s life. In the song “Days and Days” Helen’s pain is etched in her lament, chaos never happens if it’s not seen. Clearly, though, she sees.
Medium Alison is released to college, frightened and unsure, but drawn to the tight denim swagger of the worldly Joan. The prospect of a gay life is muddied by phone conversations from her conflicted father — ah, but Joan and the energy she induces; the secrets she can impart. The charming song “Changing My Major” — to Joan, that is — wins the day. An adult Alison begins to emerge. Secrets unfold within and echo the secrets at home on Maple Avenue. Alison is becoming.
Young Alison, played by Stella Rose Hoyt and Sage Elliott Harper weaves the innocence of first attraction in one of the most beautiful ballads of the production, “Ring of Keys.” It is the specificity of attraction that it captures so distinctly. A laundry list of characteristics of the object of desire cannot seem to capture the bodily experience of being transported. But the metaphor… “And your keys oh, your ring of keys” is a picture we can carry handily. Youthful love is beautifully expressed in the most subtle detail of the beloved’s physical presence. It foreshadows the victory lap of Alison’s self-discovery and we become her cheerleaders.
The genius of Victory Garden’s Fun Home is in this very specificity. It is an odd story… one never before told with lots of quirks that makes it so universally appealing. It may have an unmistakable queer sensibility, but any one who has birthed and raised a child; any one who has known the mystery of first attraction; any one who has suffered the pain of lost desire and yearned for more will find Fun Home delivers a moving rendition of the experience of being fully human.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
September 28-November 12, 2017
Tuesday-Friday @ 7:30PM
Saturday @ 3:00PM; 7:30PM
Sunday @ 3:00PM
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founder and organizer of the Chicago Web Professionals. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.