Do you pay your children to be good or are they good for nothing? Parents sometimes expect too much of their children and consequently are disappointed. Conversely, children sometimes expect too much of their parents and are likewise disappointed. This second disappointment forms the basis for “Fun Home”, the 2015 Tony award-winning musical that is now playing at the Fabulous Fox. Its lead character, Alison Bechdal, the first lesbian protagonist in a Broadway musical, offers very early on a succinct synopsis of this autobiographical play, “Dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay, and I was gay, and he killed himself, and I became a lesbian cartoonist.” Caption!
The titled fun home is the family’s private name for their family run funeral home. In this adaptation there are three Alison characters, small, medium and present day. There are also Allison’s two younger brothers, Christian and John. The brothers and small Alison all appear together in one of the play’s most lighthearted musical numbers, “Come to the Fun Home”. This is the kid’s sendup of a commercial for their family funeral home. It is sung on location, right after their father scolds them for playing hide-and-seek in the cherry-wood casket that he had just tried to sell to a bereaved patron. It’s lucky for all concerned that he didn’t open the lid.
Medium Alison comes out while away at college and writes a letter home to her parents announcing that she is gay, “Dear Mom and Dad, I have decided to switch my major to Joan, with a minor in sex with Joan.” Caption! After hearing no response, medium Alison brings Joan home to meet the parents. Helen, Alison’s long suffering mother is full of misgivings, but not so much because of Alison’s announcement. Helen tells Alison that Bruce, Alison’s father, is also gay. She also tells Allison about her father’s long history of philandering. The remainder of the play covers Alison’s unsuccessful attempts to reach out to her father until his suicide and then how she deals with its aftermath.
“Fun Home” reminds me of that old passive-aggressive saw: It’s been real, it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun. The story comes from a graphic novel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”, that the real Alison wrote, which explains why she always punctuates her own dialog with the line, “Caption!” I was a little disappointed with “Fun Home”, from its title I was expecting more fun and less tragedy. Still, in life you play with the cards that you are dealt and you try to play the best hand that you can.