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Review: FUN HOME at Alma Theatre-Cain Park

Powerful FUN HOME gets compelling must-see production at Cain Park.

By: Aug. 13, 2023
Review: FUN HOME at Alma Theatre-Cain Park  Image
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Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist who came to national attention via her long-running comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

She combined her life story and her comic strip style in the graphic memoir, FUN HOME.  It is the adoption of this book that went on to become the musical that was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical.

The original book was controversial.  In October 2006, an attempt was made to have FUN HOME removed from the Marshall, Missouri Public Library due to its “graphic” content.

In 2008, an instructor at the University of Utah made the book a reading in her course. This was followed by an attempt by a student group to have the book removed from the course’s syllabus. 

In 2013 a conservative group challenged the inclusion of the book as a reading selection for freshmen at the College of Charleston.  The issue became so heated that the South Carolina legislature attempted to cut the college’s funding because “this book trampled on the freedom of conservatives.”  The issue was only resolved when the state Senate voted to restore the funding, but redirect the funds toward the study of the United States Constitution and The Federalist Papers. 

As lately as 2015, several students at Duke University objected to the book on moral and/or religious grounds.

In FUN HOME, now on stage at Cain Park, we follow the path of Alison Bechdel of Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, as she goes from being a tween, through her experiences at Oberlin College, where her realization of her homosexuality evolves, to her becoming aware of her father’s life as a closeted homosexual, to his ultimate suicide and her full acknowledgment that, as the closing song of the musical states, “Every so often there was a rare moment of perfect balance when I soared above him.”

Joanna May Cullinan, the show’s director, says of the script, “I feel very strongly in theater and musical theater.  There are a lot of stories to be told and this was told from the perspective of someone not seen before.  There have been other musicals with gay themes but not with these family dynamics. It’s a great show for young adults to take their parents to if they want their parents to understand them a bit more.”

FUN HOME was the first mainstream musical with a lesbian protagonist.

Jeanine Tesori’s music and Lisa Kron’s lyrics are is the guts of the tale. 

Poignant songs such as “Welcome to Our House on Maple, Street,” (a visit to the family home/funeral home by a visitor from the local historical society), “Come to Fun Home” (Young Alison and her brothers, John and Christian, act out a commercial for the famil;y funeral home while playing in a casket), and “Raincoat of Love,” (small Alison fantasizing about what it would be like if her family was as happy as TV’s Partridge Family), expose the frustration of the family’s life. 

In the song “Not Too Bad,” Alison illustrates her anxiety about starting college, while in “Changing My Major,” Alison expresses her falling for Joan, her lesbian lover.   It is a key song of the score as it serves as both the comic relief and center fulcrum on which Alison later understands herself. 

Alison’s mother attempts to cope with her ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand existence by escaping from reality through her piano playing as illustrated by “Helen’s Étude.”

We watch as her father, Bruce, has contact with a series of young men, is arrested, but continues to pursue these fleeting contacts.  Each is a band aid to patch up frustration with his life.  Depression which finally results in his suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming bus (“Edges of the World”).  Alison, in the finale, reminisces about her past in “Flying Away.”

In New York the show was staged in the round, with the audience on all sides of the stage.  The local production is done on a proscenium stage.  Having seen both versions, I believe that the proscenium staging is much better.  The scenery helped give a visual quality to many of the scenes, and words were not lost as the actors faced one section of the audience but not others.   The intimate show becomes up-close and personal on the intimate Alma Theatre stage.

The production, under the able direction of Joanna May Cullinan, is of the highest quality. 

Some may find the three Alisons confusing at the start.  But quickly it becomes apparent that adult Alison (Tasha Brandt), Small Alison (Juliana Shumaker) and Medium Alison (Gabi Ilg) are the same person at different stages of life.   All three Alison’s have fine singing voices.

I wish Gabi Ilg had been more enthusiastic in her rendition of “Changing My Major” as it would have added the needed humor to lighten the heavy tale, and showed how her transition into her newfound lesbianism was a positive experience.

Scott Esposito, one of the area’s best actors (BroadwayWorld and Cleveland Critics Circle recognitions), is properly conflicted as the troubled Bruce.  He allows viewers to feel pity for this man who is a victim of society’s attitude toward gay men and feels the need to hide who he really is.  His lasting effect on the members of his family, especially Alison, are readily apparent due to Esposito’s clear angst-driven character development.

Natalie Green empathically develops a wife and mother who finds herself having to decide how to be a supportive spouse and good parent while being unable to take the action she probably should have early in the marriage.

Zoë Lewis-McLean (Joan, Alison’s lover) develops a realistic and consistent characterization.  Though probably a little too old for the role, Danny Simpson nicely portrays the young men Bruce pursues.

Simon Keating and Jaiden Shauf-Dressman (Alison’s younger brothers) are believable in their roles, handling both the comic and singing nicely.

The lighting and costumes work to enhance sensitive and focused directing.   Trad Burns‘ set design perfectly captures the Victorian nature of the house and Sara May’s furnishings and props are all era-correct.  The orchestra, under the direction of Rachel Woods is excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  This is a dramatic message musical which deserves the accolades which it has won.  It gets a must-see production, with the caveat that audience members be aware of the subject matter.

FUN HOME runs August 10–27. Showtimes are: Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to:


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