I’m so lucky. I get to see a lot of theatre. When I am offered the chance to see something like An American in Paris or Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, it’s an easy yes. Even though there are emotionally rough parts in both shows, the premises seem inviting: a G.I. falls in love in post-WWII Paris; Carole King composes most of the songs you love with Gerry Goffin. Some shows have less inviting premises, though.

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Some of the descriptions for shows I’ve seen in the last year are:

  • A three-hour long play about LBJ. (All the Way)
  • A musical dramatization of the true story of a Jewish man being falsely convicted of child-rape and lynched. (Parade)
  • A musical based on lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel growing up in a funeral home, culminating in her closeted father’s suicide. (Fun Home)

I was extremely skeptical of the first. I agreed to go on the condition that we could leave at intermission of it was painful. It was glorious. I was riveted from the first minute of South Coast Repertory‘s production. It made me hungry for more. 

I was mildly skeptical of the second, encouraged both by my All the Way experience and by the director pointing out that Les Mis isn’t a feel-good show. It was amazing. The Chance Theater’s production was completely engrossing, completely gutting and completely wonderful. 

Thanks to the first two, I didn’t hesitate for more than a beat at the prospect of seeing Alison Bechdel’s tumultuous childhood through her adult eyes. I’m so grateful for that. 

Because it made a big splash at the Tonys in 2015, because the internet exists and because I succinctly told you already, I won’t go into detailed description of the plot. What I will tell you is that you should give yourself the gift of seeing this show if at all possible. 

Fun Home is what art is for.

Alison Bechdel has opened her life up to us so that we can share in her truths and learn from them. The lie that her father lives with, suppressing his homosexuality unsuccessfully and lashing out with anger or risky behavior as a result, cuts a wide swath through his family and his community. His lie shapes his life, shapes his family’s lives and touches the lives of every man (or boy) he sneaks away with. As far as the show tells us, his lie ultimately destroys him, shaping his family’s lives in a new way. 

I watched Fun Home in the heart of conservative Orange County. PFLAG had a booth in the lobby. The LGBTQA community was visibly in attendance. The season ticket holders were also there. When the cast came out for their bows at the end, we all jumped to our feet and clapped our hearts out while shouting our praise aloud. I was crying. I bet I wasn’t alone. 

The idea that one person might have been in one audience during this show’s Broadway or touring run, recognized the pain that ripples out from living a lie, and either chosen to live their truth or softened towards someone else needing to live theirs, is what made me cry. Alison Bechdel, a woman who inadvertently shaped the way I consume media, opened herself to strangers like me because truth is important. 

I know people like fluffy, easy media. Fun Home isn’t fluffy or easy, but it is beautiful and warm and sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking. I laughed. I cried. I want you to see it. 

In addition to being ART telling TRUTH, it’s also acted beautifully. The music is great. The set was full of awe-some surprises. I want to tell you that someone stood out in the cast, but literally everyone stood out in their turns. I feel like I have to mention Abby Corrigan and Carly Gold, though, who respectively played “Medium Alison” and “Small Alison.” And now I feel like I should mention Kate Shindle, who played Alison. And then I’ll just wind up mentioning everyone else. The whole cast was fabulous.

Stand out musical numbers: The three Bechdel kids singing a song they’ve written to advertise the family’s funeral home, complete with 70s-style choreography; Medium Alison singing about the way losing her virginity has changed her life (and her major); Small Alison singing about recognizing the beauty in a butch delivery woman; Helen Bechdel (Susan Moniz) singing about how her marriage has made her disappear. 

Fun Home is at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa for the rest of this week, then moves to San Antonio. TX. Click here for more info about the Segerstrom performances, and here for the full tour dates. 

Oh– and it TOTALLY passes the Bechdel Test.

Leona Laurie