As far as family histories transferred to the stage go, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s “Fun Home” is one of the more unique theater experiences. “Fun Home” is a musical adapted from a graphic novel about author Alison Bechdel’s family life. The story unfolds through all of the points of friction — and tenderness — between Alison and her father, Bruce. It coalesces into both awakening and destruction. Walking the fine line between tragic and inspiring, “Fun Home” is a riveting view into one of the more unique childhoods I’ve ever seen.
To quickly prove that point: there is an entire musical number involving three child actors performing an upbeat commercial for a funeral home.
The performance brings three different Alisons to the stage — small, medium and modern. Joining her is her family of brothers, mother Helen, and father Bruce (Charlie Clark). Modern Alison (Natalie Bird) sits at a drafting table at the corner of the stage, writing her graphic novel as she remembers her story. Small Alison (McKenna James Farmer) grows up in a slow-motion deconstruction of a family. Interplaying into the unfolding is medium Alison (Emily Fink) who is away at Oberlin college, discovering she is a lesbian and what romantic love means for her.
The audience is in a mental sidecar, as Alison puts pen to paper and uncovers her darkest demons, her manic father’s unraveling, and the musical numbers that explain them. It’s par for the course for Ensemble Theatre to put on such a bold, topical, unnerving performance. D. Lynn Meyers, Ensemble’s Artistic Director, welcomed us to the show, clearly thrilled with the knowledge that we are about to be put through the ringer.
“Fun Home” is a musical. A live band sits in a loft space above the set. The set itself evolves and devolves with whichever Alison is currently on stage. From her childhood home with a grand piano, to a funeral home showroom, to a dorm room. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of singing by the three various Alisons. Sara Mackie as Helen, the mother, brings down the house with the woman-scorned piece “Days and days,” about how she built a life of pain and disappointment over many years. Heartbreaking, to say the least.
Particularly poignant in this time of growing intolerance and the social activists rising to meet it, “Fun Home” provides a glimpse into the devastation that can be the result of repression.
Fun Home is at the Ensemble Theatre through September 28. If opening night is any indicator, tickets will be going fast — get them now!
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.