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“Fun Home” takes a trip down memory lane

Baltimore Center Stage presents “Fun Home,” a play inspired by a graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel. Her graphic novel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” tells the story of Bechdel’s struggles growing up as a lesbian with a neglectful father who she later learns is gay himself.

In the play, Bechdel is portrayed by three characters, each representing a different stage in her life. The audience follows the main character, Alison, a 43-year-old cartoonist, as she retraces her memories of being a young girl and college student to collect inspiration for her graphic novel.

Alison’s nostalgia quickly adapts to pursuing a greater purpose than just inspiring her cartoons. She dives into her past to recollect the reasons behind her father’s suicide that she was oblivious to at such a young age. Alison, over two decades after his passing, dissects her past to rationalize and cope with her father’s death.

The “Fun Home” cast did a great job performing the complexity of each character. Although it was Alison’s story to narrate and remember, each character presented an individual depth and shared his/her own histories outside of Alison’s perspective.

Jeffry Denman (Bruce Bechdel) presented the many sides of his character. Bruce, although a very stern and controlling father, possessed a painful vulnerability and unfading sadness. Denman perfectly portrayed Bruce’s self-conflict and balanced his character’s qualities in a way that didn’t entirely villainize nor victimize Bruce.

Michelle Dawson played Helen Bechdel who, although being Alison’s mother, did not have too much of a presence in the story. This mimics how Helen and her mental well-being were overlooked throughout her entire marriage as her husband settled his own disputes revolving around acceptance of his sexuality.

That being said, although her character was not intended to have a prominent role, Dawson made the presence of Helen in the story very memorable, specifically with her song, “Days and Days.” Her musical performance spoke every underlying line, every unspoken emotion, every suppressed pain that demonstrated how Helen had suffered all along.

Molly Lyons, who portrayed the youngest form of Alison, brought an element of lightheartedness whilst maintaining the overall unsettling and upsetting tone of Alison’s childhood. Although young herself, Molly adopted the heavy themes of Alison’s life and approached them with peculiar wisdom and the natural oblivion of a child simultaneously.

Alison, a very influential child, although suspicious and rebellious towards societal norms, was undoubtedly most affected by her father. Bruce’s behavior during Alison’s youth, which was both dismissive of his children and prone to his own isolation, shaped Alison’s adulthood.

The cast, again, did a phenomenal job presenting Alison’s complicated relationship with her father. As a child naturally would to a parent, Alison looked up to Bruce, despite his inconsistent affection and interest towards her.  

Alison desperately wanted to relate to her father and find comfort in his presence. However, even when they both revealed their sexualities, Bruce still refused to connect with his daughter. This contributes to Alison’s undying sense of guilt and confusion which serves as the reason for her entire recollection of her past, thus creating “Fun Home.”

Baltimore Center Stage will showcase “Fun Home” until Feb. 24. “Fun Home” is a great story about an established adult looking back at her tainted childhood and journey to self-discovery. Alison’s reflection represents how one’s growth is dependent on one’s difficulties, and, although she faced many, they each inspire a new piece of her art and future.