Alison Bechdel is deeply conflicted about her relationship with her father. As she puts it early in the remarkable musical Fun Home, “My dad and I were exactly alike. My dad and I were nothing alike.”
That seeming contradiction defines the crux of the show, Alison’s struggle with her sexual identity and anguish over coming out as a lesbian to her parents. Understandably, she senses that these are feelings that no one has ever had before, and then she learns that her father has long been a closeted homosexual.
Based on cartoonist Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, it is one woman’s quest for understanding about who she is and how she grew out of a family from which she feels so alien. It is a show riddled with pain, yet laced with humor. No matter how different you are from Alison’s experience, it would be hard not to identify or at least empathize with her struggles and her coming of age.
Fun Home is a memory play, narrated by Alison as an adult, looking back on herself as a tomboyish youngster as well as a college student. So there are three Alisons, whose lives interweave as they observe themselves – their younger and older selves – at crucial moments, not unlike a Mobius Strip.
Director Stuart Meltzer’s staging is entirely different from the original Broadway production and just as effective and affecting. Michael McClain’s scenic design in dominated by three revolving discs on which the characters track their lives in circular motion, and an upstage drawing board surrounded by screens on which Bechdel’s drawings are projected. The result is artful fluidity and choreographic elegance.
The three Alisons are distinctive, yet together they are believable versions of each other. Young Alexa Lasanta sings of an early inkling of her orientation, spying a self-possessed delivery woman in “Ring of Keys.” Collegiate Kimmie Johnson’s post-coital number is the show’s most overtly comic tune, the giddy “Changing My Major (to Joan).” The adult Alison (Anna Lise Jensen) sings powerfully of “Maps,” but is strongest in her quiet moments, reflecting of her earlier self.
Nicholas Richberg is a standout as Alison’s emotional tortured father. And while her role as his wife is underwritten, Jeni Hacker delivers her 11 o’clock number, “Days and Days,” with great conviction. Early on, Lasanta joins with her brothers, Nate Poses and Brayden Labgold-Carroll, in a jaunty musical advertisement for the funeral home.
Fun Home covers a lot of emotional land mines in a compact, intermission-less 100 minutes. It is a journey unlike any other musical, well worth taking.
FUN HOME, Zoetic Stage at Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. Through Sunday, May 13. $50. 305- 949-6722.