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THEATER REVIEW Fun Home
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2017-09-30

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Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron; Music: Jeanine Tesori.

At: Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000 or VictoryGardens.org; $15-$75. Runs through: Nov. 12

Thank your lucky stars for Victory Gardens Theater's emotionally heartfelt production of the 2015 Broadway hit Fun Home. The five-time Tony Award-winning musical previously toured to Chicago for a two-week stint last November, but much of Fun Home's intimate power felt dissipated within the grand expanse of the Oriental Theatre.

At Victory Gardens' far cozier Biograph Theater, everything comes into a sharper focus. That's an enormous boon to playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori's brilliantly contemplative adaptation of the best-selling 2006 graphic memoir by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel ( Dykes to Watch Out For ).

Fun Home shifts through time as a 43-year-old Alison ( Danni Smith ) reexamines her own coming out journey by literally illustrating key life moments. Stella Rose Hoyt and Sage Elliott Harper alternate in the role of "Small Alison"growing up in the small Pennsylvania town of Beech Creek, while Hanna Starr plays "Medium Allison" as an exaggeratedly self-aware student at Oberlin College.

But in a stranger-than-fiction twist, Fun Home also explores the painful closeted existence of Alison's gay father, Bruce ( Rob Lindley ). Before he died in 1980 at the age of 44 in a likely suicide, Bruce was an obsessive historical home restorer, English teacher and mortician ( "Fun Home" was the family nickname for their funeral home ).

Fun Home affectionately shows the trepidation and joy of Medium Alison's first romantic fling with her activist girlfriend, Joan ( Danielle Davis ). Yet the musical also digs into the psychological hurt of Alison's parents—particularly her long-suffering mother, Helen ( McKinley Carter ), who quietly endured her husband's infidelities with younger men ( played by Joe Lino ).

All this emotionally complex material is masterfully realized under the smart direction of Broadway veteran Gary Griffin and his all-around superlative cast and production team. Music director Doug Peck also deserves praise for guiding the ensemble's passionate performances of the eclectic score.

There's a great 1970s comic pastiche number with the kids' Jackson Five-inspired commercial jingle "Come to the Fun Home" ( featuring Preetish Chakraborty and Leo Gonzalez as Alison's brothers ). There's also gut-wrenching sung soliloquies, including Small Alison's touching song of self-realization called "Ring of Keys," Helen's heartbreaking lament of a wasted life in "Days and Days" and Bruce's unsettling breakdown in "Edges of the World."

With Fun Home, the personal is deeply political as shifting attitudes toward LGBTQ openness and acceptance is contrasted within two generations of the Bechdel family. Fun Home is also universal as it shows how one grown child tries to artistically make sense of her own complicated life in relation to the situations and times that shaped those of her parents.


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