A table lies at the center of the stage. The spotlight illuminates the piece that plays a vital role in the telling of the night’s story. On the table sits a lamp, a pile of papers for drawing, stacks of pencils, a box, among other things. The whole stage was surrounded by chairs- lots of real wooden chairs, somersaulted, stacked up as ceilings and walls. I knew we were in for a treat that night, and I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t think anyone was.
I had listened to the original-cast album one too many times on Spotify -from the moment I knew Lea Salonga was going to be a part of Fun Home’s international premiere in Manila, playing the role of Helen Bechdel. I’ve researched on Alison Bechdel’s story and reviews on the musical, and looked up on available videos of the Broadway cast’s performances on YouTube. I was dying to see Fun Home in Manila since last year. Thank goodness for the limited rerun, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to witness this heartwarming and, at the same time, heart wrenching story.
Fun Home is a story of love and acceptance.
Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue!
See how we polish and we shine?
We rearrange and realign.
Everything is balanced and serene.
Like chaos never happens if it’s never seen.
Alison Bechdel is gay. Her father, Bruce, is gay who cheats on his wife, Helen. Bruce committed suicide. It has been mentioned by Alison many times in the play, still, it didn’t make it less painful to watch her father breakdown and decide to end his own life. While her mother spends her days being the good wife, with her heart and soul continuously being shattered into pieces as she lives with a man who has never loved her.
Fun Home sends you into an emotional mayhem. One moment you’re laughing at middle Alison enthusiastically singing about her new found sexuality, the next moment, you see Bruce getting pissed off of a drawing, and your heart is pinched. One moment, the Bechdel family’s happily dancing, holding each other’s hands, ensuring one another that “everything’s alright when we’re together,” the next moment, Alison and Bruce are driving, sharing a conversation but never seeing eye to eye, and Alison pleads to stop the time from going too fast, beating herself up for not mustering up the courage to talk to her father.
If in an alternate universe, people were more accepting and loving, would Helen have married Bruce? Would Bruce have hidden his real sexuality? Would Helen have given up her days? Would Bruce have still broken a heart or two, and yet still be happy? But then again, in that alternate universe, would Alison have lived? And would there have been a rare moment of perfect balance when Alison soared above her father?
It was nearing the end. Alison drew on the table at the center of the stage. She’s just drawing, and drawing, and drawing. The spotlight shines on her. It was the last song, the last scene. Small Alison, Middle Alison, and Big Alison share the stage, they sing to their father, who is now gone. Big Alison uttered her final caption. The last note dropped. And all went black.
I was left in awe. I couldn’t understand how or what to feel. I hear people around me sniffing. They were crying. I stood up and gave the wonderful cast a standing ovation. I was amazed, inspired, and heartbroken. The rest stayed in their seats, probably still shedding tears, their knees probably too weak to stand, their heads spinning, their hearts aching from the outpouring of emotions by which they’re probably not ready for.
And there it is for me, the fun in FUN HOME.
The fun in dealing with a mayhem of emotions after watching the musical. The fun in finding the right words to describe the experience. And oh, what an experience it was! I went out of the theater with a whole new perspective on life. Now, I’m flying away with a more loving and accepting heart.