As we walk into the theater for a performance of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the first thing we notice onstage is that everything is just so on Dennis Hassan’s beautifully ornate set. Not one knickknack or table leg at a wrong angle. It is perfect, a well-appointed home. But, as we are to quickly learn, things are far from perfect in this home, they are however, sometimes fun.
Fun Home, which opened April 4, 2018 at Salt Lake Acting Company, to roaring applause is a Tony-Award winning play adapted from an autobiographic graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel, who you might know from the “Bechdel Test,” which asks whether or not a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man, created an inspiring work that translated into a belty musical this cast completely owns. (Also it passes the Bechdel test, FYI.)
Father Bruce Bechdel (Benjamin Henderson) is a serious man. He runs the local funeral home (which the family nicknames “the fun home”), teaches English at the high school and is a collector and and lover of old things, which he carefully arranges in his lovingly restored Victorian home. His wife, Helen (Ashley Wilkinson) and three children Allison (Natalia Bingham), Christian (Mathew Rees) and John (Jack Sarfati) support their father’s mania with Von Trapp Family precision, hopping to, for example, when a representative comes from the local historical society to consider the home for a stop on a historic homes tour.
Beneath father’s meticulous facade, however, lies the truth. Bruce is a gay man, fully closeted and loaded with inner turmoil. Set in the ’80s and ’90s, men like Bruce were typical in a time when yearnings to hug and kiss other men were still something to be kept secret. His daughter, Allison, is also gay, and the role is played by three different actors—Bingham as “small Allison,” Hailee Olenberger” as college-aged “medium Allison” and adult Allison (Shawnee Kennington) who acts as the narrator observing her younger selves, father and family’s life from the present day as the graphic novel author Alison Bechdel.
But life in the Bechdel household isn’t all full of angst and tension, it’s also sometimes fun. The three children are just kids, after all, and kids find ways to play, whether its making a game out of keeping the house “just so” or rehearing an ABBA-esque musical number as a commercial for Bruce’s funeral home business, casket dancing included. These three child actors are fantastic, a delight to watch. Bingham, especially has a heavy load to bear as her father’s favorite who is struggling with her own sexual identity and her solo numbers are as powerful as they are tender.
Henderson’s Bruce is full of inner turmoil, rage and fear as we watch his life unravel in the wake of Allison’s own coming-out saga. Coming from his closeted time, he simply doesn’t know how to be out and holds tightly to the crumbling structure of his life to the last. His thundering voice moved my seat mates to tears throughout.
Hailee Olenberger as college-aged Allison, however, stole the show. Her clumsy stumbles and fumbles into her lesbian self are darling and, after she dares consummate, her desires with her classmate Joan (Mary-Helen Pitman) an out-and-proud campus LGBT activist, her song “I’m Majoring in Joan” is still bringing a smile to my face.
Fun Home is simply the best thing SLAC has done all season and, fact, it’s one of the best performances any professional house has mounted in the last year. The assembled cast, directed under the steady hand of Jason Bowcutt, is absolute perfection. If we were passing out local theater awards this play would be in the running for best of the 2017–18 season along with PTCs Bright Star and Plan-B’s The Weird Play. Don’t miss it.
Fun Home runs through May, 13 2018 at the Salt Lake Acting Company. For tickets, showtimes and more details go to here.