Chicago Theater Review: FUN HOME (Victory Gardens)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 30, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


Wise and warm, the 100-minute family memoir Fun Home charts the twisted courses of two generations of the Bechdels—a self-shaming gay father and a self-affirming lesbian daughter—from her coming out to his suicide. Based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel, this intimate 2015 Broadway one-act chamber musical, winner of five Tony Awards, is propelled by 14 passionate songs by Jeanine Tesori and the all-telling book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

Graced by Gary Griffin’s near-perfect Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, Fun Home balances the scales of unacknowledged love against what might have been. When a saving affection arrives too late or not at all, the inquiry—where did so many good intentions go wrong?—is wrenching: The survivors can only hope that acceptance is not a miracle cure.

Warily stationed behind her illustrator’s desk, a very persuasive Danni Smith plays 43-year-old Alison. This tested dreamer is an often-helpless observer of her own quest (“It All Comes Back”) for the treasures that hearts can hide.

Her remembrance centers on two periods that provide shifting timelines for Alison’s journey. The first is when Small Alison (enchanting Sage Elliott Harper), now 10, must navigate her father’s hypocritical desire to make her the perfect heterosexual lady (“Party Dress”). Or to literally fly her away from the Victorian showplace (“House on Maple Avenue”) and the family funeral home that provides the show’s sardonic title. In a rare invasion of joy, she joins her delightful brothers John (Preetish Chakraborty) and Christian (Leo Gonzalez) in a pretend commercial for the mortuary (“Come to the Fun Home”).

The second turning point comes when Medium Alison (a sweetly searching Hannah Starr) goes to college and decides to major in a fellow co-ed, Joan (a contagiously confident Danielle Davis). She’s happy to discover she’s not asexual after all. Even better, she can adore another without regrets.

Meanwhile, pursuing his treacherous path to desire, her cruising, conflicted father Bruce (Rob Lindley), forced to see a shrink because he preys on boys (sadly, the only way he could leave the closet was, tragically, to molest minors), ignores his too-aware wife Helen (McKinley Carter), collateral damage in a mistaken marriage (“Helen’s Etude” and “Days and Days”). Instead this very damaged secret-sharer romances a young yard man named Roy (Joe Lino who also plays Bruce’s other underage objects).

Much of the musical chronicles the near-hits and mostly-misses in this contorted father-daughter contretemps—Bruce’s invented assurances (“Maps”), his make-believe lullaby (“Pony Girl”), their awkward, late-coming pseudo-confessionals (“Telephone Wire”), the parents’ refusal to honor the sincerity of Medium Alison’s sexual declaration of dependence. When Bruce ends his lies with his life (“Edges of the World”), Alison feels both guilt and reconciliation, certain that her queer “raincoat of love” will be mutual and public.

Fun Home has many hinges: before and after, if or when, then and now, and, above all, three Alisons both for and against less than one Bruce. Our sympathies get fought over (and over), which only tells you how much truth-telling is at stake here. Griffin makes every moment matter, while Doug Peck’s musical direction triggers the novelistic texture of Kron’s supple lyrics and Tesori’s vaulting melodies. This may not be fun but it sure is home.


photos by Liz Lauren
(click on photo for larger image)

Fun Home
Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 3 & 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on November 12, 2017
EXTENDED to November 19, 2017
for tickets, call 773.871.3000
or visit Victory Gardens

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago


Jim Daniels October 2, 2017 at 5:35 am

Correction on the name of the actor playing Small Allison – if the performance review was done on opening night, the actor playing Small Allison was Stella Rose Hoyt, not Sage Elliot Harper.

Editor-in-Chief Tony Frankel October 3, 2017 at 1:13 am

The review was NOT for the opening night performance.

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