BWW Review: FUN HOME at Kauffman Center
You can find an abundance of gay jokes in any musical or play, but FUN HOME is one of the few musicals that actually revolve around characters being gay and discovering that world.
The show, based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, is not only her coming out story, but also at the forefront is her troubled relationship with her dad and how he commits suicide. We see three different Alison's; the 43-year-old writer (played by Kate Shindle) is always on stage watching the moments in her life as she remembers them to caption them with her cartoons, 10-year-old Alison (played by Carly Gold) serves as the wide-eyed, feisty, girl who questions social norms, and college-Alison (played by Abby Corrigan), the fumbling young adult who is starting to figure out who she is out of the family home.
Their father (played by Robert Petkoff) is a closeted gay man who hones his frustrations into making the family home the perfect picture of a Victorian home, but lets some of his rage slip when manipulating Small Alison or hurting his wife (played by Susan Moniz) with his affairs, lack of romance, and his anger.
The best part of the show is the young kids. In "Welcome to the Fun Home" Small Alison and her brothers (played by Luke Barbato Smith and Henry Boshart) are rehearsing a commercial they made up for the family funeral. The song is a wacky disco number complete with colorful lighting and over-the-top dance moves. The irony of this upbeat song being about a funeral home and the kids' endearingly clumsy dancing had the audience roaring with laughter in an otherwise heavy show.
And speaking of Small Alison, Carly Gold's honesty in singing "Ring of Keys" left tears in my eyes and several audience members holding their partners a little tighter as she sings about seeing someone for the first time who she felt a deep connection with because they were whom she wants to be like.
The way Small Alison questioned her dad about why she had to act or look a certain way while he manipulated and mentally abused her made me want to scoop her up and carry her far away where she could get the crew-cut and draw all the cartoons her little heart desires.
In fact, I would have loved to see the moment where College Alison cut her hair and started dressing like a "tom-boy." Defying your parents' expectations to be who you are can be a liberating and emotional moment, but it's a connection I don't think the audience ever got. Not when Alison writes the letter to her parents saying she is a lesbian, or when she sings, "Changing my Major (to Joan)," a song about taking that full leap into romance with another girl, or even when she yells at her parents for not addressing the fact that she told them she is a lesbian. All of those instances felt one-dimensional and stiff. For actors who are supposed to be a family, there didn't feel to be a connection between them.
However, when the audience finally gets to see and understand her dad's suicide, we get more of that emotional connection and can feel the tough place it put Alison in from the moment it happened to her writing about it some 20 years later.
The show speaks on some heavy issues and has mature language so it is recommended for audiences aged 12 and up. Also, the 1-hour-and-45-minute show has no intermission, so learn from my mistake and use the bathroom beforehand.
FUN HOME plays at Kauffman Theatre through Sunday June 4th. For tickets go to http://theaterleague.com/kansascity/ or call 816-421-7500.