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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: Fun Home is a fresh and open-hearted exploration of the complexity of life, love and family

Powerful laughs combined with gut wrenching drama make this one of the best shows this reviewer has ever seen at the Arts Club

Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015, Fun Home is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel. With music by Jeanine Tesori and a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, it is dizzyingly structured as time keeps looping back on itself in a fresh and open-hearted exploration of the complexity of life, love and family.

Fun Home opens with Alison Bechdel, played with pinpoint pain and hopeful curiosity by a remarkable Sara-Jeanne Hosie, drawing the graphic novel which juxtaposes her coming out story with the suicide of her father, who was also gay.

An accomplished man who liked restoring homes, her father was a teacher who also ran a funeral home (hence the title).  His manic energy and drive was a manifestation of his repressed pain in hiding his sexuality.

Jumping back-and-forth in time, Alison tries to make sense of their life. We meet Small Alison, played with a crisp and captivating forthrightness by Jaime MacLean, and Kellie Ogmundson as Medium Alison, who is hilariously awkward as she lustfully experiences her first kiss. When Medium Alison deadpans, “I’m scared I won’t fit in with the lesbians, the real lesbians”, it is simultaneously humorous and poignant.

What makes Fun Home such a brilliant ride though, is in its ability to glide from raucous hilarity, to heartbreak in its musical numbers.

In a commercial called “Come to the Fun Home” created by Small Allison and her two brothers, played perkily by Glen Gordon and Nolen Dubuc, as they finish singing about all the amenities available, the show stopped for an extended applause break.

The musical just as easily slips into heartbreak as Mom, a simple understated and mournful Janet Gibliotti, declares she can no longer sacrifice her life for her conflicted husband in “Days and Days”.

The songs also wonderfully capture the jumbled thoughts of its characters, with hesitant lyrics and unfinished sentences “I feel…I feel…” as heard in the “Ring of Keys”, sung by Small Allison.  The short silences in some of the songs feel more like dialogue than musical numbers, making them more honest and engaging.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Eric Craig and Jaime MacLean in Fun Home. Photo by David Cooper.
Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Eric Craig and Jaime MacLean in Fun Home. Photo by David Cooper.

Eric Craig plays the dad, Bruce, with such depth and pain, covered in a stoic righteousness, it hurts to watch. Your heart aches for him to just be himself, and when he does speak of how “the fire burns so hot I don’t know what to do”, you want to shake him.

Under Lois Anderson empathic direction Craig is authoritative without being an ogre, full of lustful desire without being a pig, and profoundly sad without being whiney. It’s a remarkable balancing act.

The set by Amir Ofek is the imposing funeral home main living room with paper-thin wallpaper is nicely crafted, emphasizing the fragility of the conflict within the characters.

Amy McDougall has great fun with the costumes capturing 1970’s and 1990’s fashions with charming precision.

The full band is terrific, with three members playing parts in the show as well.

Nick Fonrtaine plays the young objects of desire as well as bass, and Sara Vickruck plays Mediums Allison’s first girlfriend, Joan. Although he has no lines, Mike WT Allen plays a beckoning sailor as well as the reeds. Niko Friesen, Sarah Ho, Laine Longton, and musical director Jonathan Monro complete the band.

With its themes of coming out and homosexuality, some audiences may not consider Fun Home a show for them. But this is a story about being afraid to realize your full potential and about how family shapes us be it good or bad. Universally appealing with a unique structure and viewpoint, Fun Home is much more and becomes a fascinating human adventure.

The emotional roller coaster Fun Home takes you on is intoxicating. I am going back for another ride.

Fun Home. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Directed by Lois Anderson. On stage at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) until March 10. Visit for tickets and information.

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