Stage Review: ‘Fun Home’ National Tour

FunHomeAlison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” first arose 15 years ago as one of those rare graphic novels that rose above all others, as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” or Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” did before it, to further the form and broaden its acceptance beyond bound comics to something approaching literary and artistic pinnacles.

Intensely personal, occasionally dark and consistently insightful, it seemed the opposite of the kind of thing that could be turned into the usual  Broadway musical. But maybe for those reasons, the adaptation of “Fun Home” stood out, succeeded and won a Tony. The female creative team of Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) created something that, like the graphic novel, was specific and real and universal and moving.

The national tour of “Fun Home” that made it to the National Theatre in D.C. this week is still full of life. A few of the Broadway originators — all of them kind of singular in how unshowy and unglitzy they are, continue on the road. They touch the audience because they are normal, pale-looking people who look like they have a deeper inner life in addition to the soaring voices they use when they sing.

Like the book, the time shifts back and forth from childhood to college to the present day for the young woman at the center of the story, finding out she is gay about the same time she is learning her father has been closeted most his life as well.

Kate Shindle, as the contemporary Alison, paces the stage and observes things as as she is about to put it to paper, considering things and commenting on it from time to time. As she breaks things down to panel form in her mind she shouts out “Caption!” every so often to state the text that accompanies her pictures and speech balloons. (I can’t quite imagine that actual artists, or even Bechdel herself actually does this, or even thinks in these terms).

Nevertheless, because of the details of the book that have been carefully preserved for the stage, we get a vivid portrait of an unusual family — unusual like all of our families are unusual — but this one even more so, as an eccentric family in a rural Pennsylvania town is headed by historical preservationist, borderline hoarder and funeral home director (hence their nickname for the place that provides the title of the work).

Alessandra Baldacchino is just great as the youngest Alison, with a clear, plaintive voice and actions that identify her as a curious, self-possessed child demanding time of her family.

Abby Corrigan, as the college-aged Allison, is a little less sure of herself especially as she explores longings she first acts on. It’s a great set of parents – Robert Petkoff as the enigmatic, sometimes thoughtless father; Susan Moniz as the neglected wife and mother, stoic though hurt.

They all love each other but struggle to understand each other fully. What is brilliantly explored in the graphic novel is well-shown in the musical; Kron has picked the funniest lines and the most telling scenes (a long drive with dad in which they don’t speak) into song.

By picking the key elements of Bechdel’s haunting memoir, Kron’s stage craft is indelible too, such as the father-daughter airplane acrobatics that begin and end the musical just as they did in the book.

David Zinn’s set design is a marvel, since it has to move around a lot of antiques and still house the six-piece orchestra in the back. Director Sam Gold keeps things moving with ebullience despite the sometimes dark subject matter.

And just when I was starting to long for one element profoundly missing from the stage version — Bechdel’s drawings and craft, there is one superimposed just at the end.

 

“Fun Home” continues through May 13 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. 

 

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