‘Fun Home’ tries to understand family truths and appearances

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‘Fun Home’ is an unforgettable show that just came to Chicago after winning five Tony Awards in 2015. Unfortunately, it is only at the Oriental Theatre now through Nov. 13, 2016.

"Fun Home" at Oriental Theatre with Kate Shindle (Adult Alison) l, Abby Corrigan (Middle Alison) and Alessandra Baldacchino (Small Alison) Photo by Joan Marcus
“Fun Home” at Oriental Theatre with Kate Shindle (Adult Alison) l, Abby Corrigan (Middle Alison) and Alessandra Baldacchino (Small Alison). Photo by Joan Marcus

An intimate, questioning look back at a father and family life from a daughter’s view during youth, college years and in mid-40s, the show probably deserves an intimate space.

What you see through the three daughter’s views and the sketchbook/journal they carry is a loving father who is a control freak with deep-rooted problems, a home that is also a funeral parlor and insights on homosexuality.

You are glimpsing the different stages from the perspective of Alison, a woman who is an artist and prefaces thoughts by saying “Caption” as she looks back on life and lets you know she is a lesbian cartoonist.

Bruce, the father, painted with a multicolored brush by Broadway and London veteran Robert Petkoff, is an English teacher, a house restorer, an undertaker and a gay man who grew up when society was quick to frown on homosexuality.

When he sings late in the show about the “crushing” problems of a house he wants to restore you also know that the desperation he exhibits is personal. And when he says “keep under control,” it’s his life-long struggle.

It also explains why earlier he told 10-year-old Alison, exuberantly played by Alessandra Baldacchino who did the role on Broadway, that she can’t wear a T and jeans to an event when other girls will be wearing dresses. He warns her that if she doesn’t she will be ridiculed. The scene really is a view of how he must have felt when growing up.

By the time 19-year-old college student Alison, perfectly portrayed by stage, film and TV actress Abby Corrigan, goes away to Oberlin, she is beginning to understand and happily accept that she is a lesbian with the help of friend Joan (Karen Eilbacher). Times have changed and there is a gay rights organization on campus.

Broadway, film and TV actress Kate Shindle thoughtfully interprets the adult Alison who at age 43 is now trying to understand her dad. She looks over the shoulders of herself as  “Small” Alison and “Middle” Alison to bring back memories of dad and home life.

A show song asks “What do you know that’s not your dad’s mythology?” The words explain that it’s “not what he told you, it’s what you see.”

Even though the show is a musical and won Tony for Best Musical, it is not one whose songs will be played by DJs.

With book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, the musical is an insightful way to present the 2006 best-selling memoir of Alison Bechdel titled Fun Home. Its subtitle is A Family Tragic/Comic.

The musical starts out lighthearted with young Alison flying through a room and she and her two brothers popping out of a casket.

But near the end of the show, you learn that Bruce was a terrible husband when Broadway musical star Susan Moniz sings the heartbreaking “Days and Days.”

He did what he society thought he was supposed to and produced Alison and her two brothers, Christian (Pierson Salvador) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond). But as Helen knew, he also would leave the house to pick up young males (Robert Hager as Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby).

Directed by Sam Gold, ‘Fun Home’ is honest, emotional and raises questions about how well we know or understand our parents.

Details: ‘Fun Home’ is at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60603 now through Nov. 13, 2016. Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway in Chicago.

 

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