|Cast members of Fun Home, at the Public Theatre. (Photo: Sara Krulwich)|
Fun Home, the musical based on the memoir Alison Bechdel wrote in the form of a graphic novel, sold out during several runs at the Public Theatre and has recently opened to great acclaim on Broadway; it’s been showered with Tony nominations and a national tour is on the books. The audience I saw it with cheered every song – the confessional numbers, the self-actualization numbers, the mournful yet rousing protests against the repressed, homophobic society that dooms the narrator/protagonist Alison’s father to life as a closeted gay man, (mostly) remote from his children, and eventually to suicide. In the book Alison doesn’t know for sure whether her dad, Bruce, deliberately stepped in front of a truck just three months after she came out to her parents or if it was an accident. Lisa Kron, the play’s librettist, eliminates the ambiguity; her version of the material gets rid of all the mystery around the character, though perhaps, with a flesh-and-blood actor in the role, his motivations are at any rate less likely to stay hidden. Bechdel’s book is brainy and quirky, but I didn’t respond to it with the enthusiasm many other people felt; I found it a cool, unemotional reading experience. Kron strengthens the dramatic arc – Alison’s sexual and artistic coming of age and her coming to terms with her father’s elusiveness and the overlap in their desires and their personalities – and warms up the story. It’s practically a textbook example of how to put together a successful twenty-first-century musical play, with a sympathetic, forthright lesbian, an older-generation gay dad, a square peg who’s struggled all his life to fit into a round hole, and his put-upon wife, who’s spent all the years of their marriage trying to make him happy but whom he’s closed out. Alison, the narrator, who’s moving into middle age and trying to make sense of her mixed-up childhood – lived in a small Pennsylvania town where her father doubled as funeral home director and high-school English teacher – and her cataclysmic college years, is the ideal heroine for a contemporary liberal audience, while Bruce’s is the perfect symbolic tragedy for an age that wants to embrace sexual diversity and pummel prejudice against a homosexual lifestyle out of existence. You can’t object to the play’s values – but “values” aren’t a theatrical virtue. You might be put off, as I was, by the musical’s triteness and banality, and by the way it pushes the audience’s buttons.