I don’t know about you, but I love my mom. As in, we actually get along pretty well and we’re kind of friends. I don’t tell her everything that I tell friends who are closer to my age, but we have a lot of similar interests, and we email on a pretty consistent basis. One of the things that we enjoy in common is musical theater, and ever since I was young, we started going to interesting shows when they’re in town. I’ve seen a lot of different things, and it’s nice to have that sort of variety in theater experience. A lot of them are the big sweeping productions, but some are quirkier and not as broadly appealing.
Our most recent outing was when we saw Fun Home at the National Theatre. Fun Home tells the story of Alison Bechdel’s childhood and then coming out as a young adult. It’s also the story of her family and her discovery of the secrets that were buried deep that she never saw. If you don’t recognize the name Alison Bechdel right away, you probably know about the Bechdel Test, which she brought into popular usage – the idea that a movie “passes” if there are a) two women who b) talk to each other c) about something other than a man. It’s one of those rules that once you know of it, you see failures in everything you watch, and feel sad about it. But that rule came out of one of Bechdel’s comics, which is the thing she’s best known for, and this musical is based on her graphic memoir, also called Fun Home.
Now, something that may be less appealing to a more conservative part of the country is that the focus of much of the show is Alison’s burgeoning discovery of her own homosexuality. But while I as a straight woman cannot relate directly to that time and type of self-discovery, I can relate to things like not being entirely comfortable with my body and my place in the world, to feeling different and alone, to that rush you feel when you kiss someone for the first time, to sexual discovery, and to the awkwardness of delivering big news to your parents by letter during college (mine was telling them I wanted to be a librarian, and wouldn’t be pursuing a career in science after I finished my bachelors degree). Not to mention the whole “discovering things about your family you never knew” bit. So while it may be a much more meaningful and relatable experience to see on stage if you are queer, there’s still so much of the show that is relevant to everyone.
The cast is small – 9 people – but they’re all wonderful. I was amazed to learn that the actress portraying adult Alison is a former Miss America. She and the other two ladies portraying Alison at the other stages of her life are all terrific. I particularly loved Abby Corrigan who plays medium Alison, the one who is experiencing the most discovery about herself and her family. She starts the show so sweet and pure, and by the end of the show the scales have dropped from her eyes and she sees herself more clearly, along with the relationships of her family around her and what it all really means. Robert Petkoff as Bruce (Alison’s father) is heartbreaking.
And this is to say nothing of the music. The variety in style is amazing, from the plaintive child-like opening of “It All Comes Back” to the funny and tender “Changing My Major”. The song “Come to the Fun Home” had the entire audience laughing out loud at various parts and amazes with it’s spot-on Jackson 5 styling. The song I knew about ahead of time and felt most deeply watching (and have felt every time I rewatched) was “Ring of Keys” which is just perfect in it’s ability to convey what it feels like when you really recognize other people like yourself out in the world. The shock and excitement, and quivering quiet joy that you are not alone in the world.
It’s a great show. It’s the kind of thing that will stick with you and sink into your soul. I’ve been trying to put off purchasing the kindle edition of Fun Home only because my kindle is full, and because I don’t know when I would have time to devote to actually reading the book. And even if you’re not in DC, there are lots and lots of locations for the tour. So the entire country will be lucky enough to have a chance to go, “Wow!” too.