Image Description: McKinley Carter, Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley are sitting and standing by a couch in a family portrait pose.
By Amelia Birch
I have been longing to see Fun Home for five years, a musical that had a Broadway run in 2015 which was nominated for twelve Tony Awards and won five of them. I remember standing in a bar in London at my housemate’s birthday, talking to one of her friends who was a theatre producer.
“We are gonna get it over here soon,” he promised me, but years passed, and it didn’t happen. Weirdly enough, Sweden got it long before it hit the UK, and out of desperation I flew to Stockholm with an ex-girlfriend to see it. It was of course in Swedish, which I don’t speak, but that seemed like a minor detail.
Fast-forward to 2020, when I’m back in Perth making plans to fly to over east to see Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Fun Home – in ENGLISH, what a blessing – and then, of course, the show is cancelled, flights are cancelled, everything is cancelled. It’s feeling like I am doomed to never see it.
Then a couple of weeks ago Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago announced they would be streaming their 2017 production of Fun Home. The set up is pretty simple: buy a ticket, and you’re emailed a Vimeo link for the show that you can use once. It’s not the same as going to the theatre, but it’s the closest we’ve got at the moment.
Fun Home is an adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir mainly about her relationship with her closeted father and coming to terms with her lesbianism. The musical is non-linear, with adult Alison (Danni Smith) trying to document her life through cartoons as she watches memories played out onstage by her child and college-aged selves. A tragicomedy at heart, Fun Home is at once funny, warm, and devastatingly raw. Rob Lindley and McKinley Carter give nuanced performances as Alison’s parents, exploring the claustrophobia of the family unit and the agony of lives not lived.
Where Fun Home really shines is with each of the Alisons. Stella Rose Hoyt is perfect as “Young Alison”, at once headstrong and desperate for approval, and Hannah Starr as “Medium Alison” is an absolute joy. The dynamic between Smith’s adult Alison watching her younger selves moved me in a way I was not anticipating. For much of the show, Smith clutches her sketchbook to her chest as a shield as she hovers on the edges of scenes, cringing as she watches her collegiate awkwardness with her first girlfriend Joan (Danielle Davis) and searching for underlying meaning when her father calls her child self in to help him at his job as a funeral director. Smith teeters on the edge of real emotional connection, pulling herself back into the role of the observer until ‘Telephone Wire’ when her frustration and vulnerability boil over while reliving her final car ride with her father. “There’s a moment I’m forgetting where you tell me you see me,” she begs the memory of her father, and it hits me right in the chest. That’s the power of theatre, folks.
Watching it now after months of being stuck inside, Fun Home feels more relevant than ever. So many of us during this time have been decluttering, reflecting, talking to our families. Trying to make sense of our lives, both in the moment and all the little things that led us to this point. Fun Home is the best and worst of that. It is at times a hard watch, but it can be beautiful. Like young Alison’s wonder the first time she sees a lesbian, or in ‘Changing My Major’ where college Alison enthusiastically declares her love for her first girlfriend. Adult Alison watches on, sometimes embarrassed or frustrated, but ultimately patient and compassionate, muddling through her past to try to make sense of her present.
Really, we are all just figuring it out. But I know this much: pay your $20 and watch Fun Home. You won’t regret it.
Fun Home streams until 24 May. Tickets are $20 and can be found at https://victorygardens.org/event/fun-home-streaming/
Image courtesy of Victory Gardens