Cain Park’s ‘FUN HOME’ is a challenge for the theatrical viewer
I am going to be perfectly honest. I am not a big fan of “FUN HOME”. It is billed as a musical, yet except for two songs (“Come To The Fun Home” and “Changing My Major”) it quickly takes a dive into bummerville. It deals with a dis-”fun”-ctional family ruled by a talented but controlling father (he restores houses, he teaches, he plays piano, he sings, he reads, he’s a funeral director, he seemingly never sleeps) who comes packed with a number of mental disorders. In short, it is a very frustrating 90 minutes (without intermission) where you know the ending at the start but need to suffer through to the not surprising conclusion.
“Fun Home” began as a graphic comic by Alison Bechdel who is known for her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and is her life story of growing up in the 70s. The Broadway version was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, ending up with five wins including Best Musical. The book is not without its controversy having become the target of book banning conservatives across the country from Missouri to Utah to South Carolina to North Carolina.
The show centers on Alison (portrayed in various ages by Annie Pelletier (young Alison at the Saturday performance), Gabi Ilg (medium Alison) and Tasha Brandt (Alison) and her coming of age in Beech Creek, PA, her coming out at Oberlin College, Ohio and her career as a lesbian cartoonist and graphic novelist.
Her father, Bruce (Scott Esposito) is a perfectionist who seems in maddening perpetual competition with everyone around him. In his mind, his opinion is the only thing that matters. He also harbors a deep secret...that of being a closet homosexual in the 70s having seduced various students and men over the years. His trolling even continues after an arrest in his home town and during a trip to New York City with his children.
His wife, Helen (Natalie Green) chooses to ignore Bruce’s various “picadillos” in order to keep the family together and functioning no matter what. She is a talent in her own right as a classical pianist, teacher and actor in local theater productions. The siblings, when left to their own devices, do a rather hilarious hip-hop singing funeral commercial with the brothers Christian (Simon Keating) and John (Jaiden Shauf-Dressman) being the rare sparks of comic relief.
In spite of Director Joanna May Cullinan’s best efforts the production grinds along to it’s revealed ending. As for the actors, they are top notch bringing an honest portrayal of a very difficult set of subjects including mental illness and suicide. The seven piece orchestra of Rachel Woods (Conductor/Keys), Ryan Detwiler (Violin/Viola), Justin Hart (Percussion), Jessie Fishman (Guitar), Hannah Benjamin (Cello), RJ Rovito (Reeds) and Tim Keo (Bass) does an outstanding job as well.
Trad A Burns does a magnificent job on the scenic design with an amazing two story house with stair case. Adam Ditzel utilizes every ounce of energy from the lighting system to emphasize all the important parts. The actors are all mic’d and sound designer Angie Hayes has perfect separation of voices, especially during the group sings. Sarah May found an entire house full of props that really added to the show.
While this production will have close to sold out audiences throughout its run, it may not be the show for everyone. If you are sensitive to subjects such as mental illness, compulsive behavior, extensive family control and suicide it may not be your cup of Ovaltine. Otherwise, it is great theater.
“FUN HOME” will be on stage in the Alma Theater at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, Ohio through August 27, 2023. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For information and tickets go to https://www.cainpark.com/148/buy-tickets or call (216) 371-3000.