Fun Home: A Musical of Death and Enjoyment

In the final moments of “Fun Home,” the Alisons transcended time as they sang a three-part harmony and dissolved the barrier between the different versions of themselves. Directed by Jack Swales ’24, his Theatre & Dance 901 production of “Fun Home” attracted students this Friday and Saturday night to the George Washington Hall Theater Classroom. Told from the perspective of child Alison, college Alison, and adult Alison, the play dealt with heavy themes of identity and family dynamics. Alex Giarnese ’25 shared how the show resonated with him. 

“I thought the performance was really impactful. I really appreciated all the themes that it was covering and I think Jack did a fantastic job of casting and directing a show that really made a mark on me and imprinted itself on the audience… Learning to accept yourself and learning how to reflect on your identity and what events make you, you. Especially because I think a big part of the musical was Alison reflecting on herself as a child and as a college student and how she grew up, so I think a really big theme that was being conveyed was figuring out how the events you experience as a child and young adult really shape you as a person,” said Giarnese.

An important part of conveying these themes was maintaining the distinction between each Alison which showed her development through time. A key part of this personal growth was an increased level of awareness surrounding the events in her past and her present. Ivy Randall ’25, who played young Alison, provides us with further insight into the younger version of her character.

“My role specifically showed Alison’s relationship with her dad at a young age and kind of the peculiarities of her life that she didn’t really realize at the time. It revealed a lot of her father’s verbal abuse and the scenes with small Alison hinted at affairs her father had with men visiting the house that she didn’t realize were happening when she was younger. It also shows her experience growing up running a funeral home. There was a really funny song where all the little kids are making a commercial about their family funeral home, but it’s pretty disturbing if you think about it that at such a young age they’re dealing with dead bodies and such a dark topic, and I think that’s kind of a theme throughout the show. My character, young Alison, was dealing with a lot of heavy, dark topics, but she didn’t quite realize that yet because she was still young and naive,” said Randall.

Although Alison may not have understood the depth of the situation, her mother carries the burden of maturity. This heaviness culminates in the mother’s final song, “Days and Days,” where she explicitly reveals the happenings of the house and Alison’s father’s extramarital affairs with men. In this song, the implicit is made explicit, and Giarnese shares the significance of this moment in the play.

“My favorite part was Simi [Gandhi ’24]’s song at the end, or if you saw the play, it was the mother’s song, towards the end of the show. It was almost all a capella, her voice was beautiful, the way she sang the song almost brought me to tears. It was such a beautiful performance and I really appreciated how much emotion Simi was putting into her acting and into her singing. I thought it was a really impactful turning point in the production where we started to see the true themes and the true identities coming through of, not only Alison, but also the other characters in the play like the mother and the father, so I thought it was probably the most impactful change of scenery in the play,” said Giarnese.

Although the musical itself dealt with heavy themes, behind the scenes the performers had a thoroughly enjoyable experience. As a student directed show, the students were able to form a unique bond with their fellow castmates and facilitate an environment that was focused on growth and fun. Randall shares how Swales made his Theatre & Dance 901 production something that was a highlight of her day and facilitated an atmosphere that fostered creativity. 

“In terms of Jack’s leadership, he was very encouraging and inspiring from the beginning. He made the class so fun to go to but also something that you want to put work towards. Even though it was first period in the morning, I could hardly wait to go to school in the morning, I could hardly wait to watch videos of the actors and really study my character so that I could get it right because he fostered this really encouraging atmosphere that made us all want to do well,” said Randall.

This tight-knit community was also beneficial to the quality of the performance. The close relationship shared by the cast members allowed them all to work together seamlessly and support each other throughout the performance. Giarnese shared how their connection could be felt as an audience member as well.

“This performance seemed like the cast had a really special connection, and I think that is due to it being student directed. Oftentimes, we find that with teacher directed performances that sometimes the cast doesn’t have as strong of a connections because they don’t do a lot of cast building or working to make sure everyone gets along, but I could definitely feel that the cast loved each other, had so much fun creating this piece, and were really excited to produce it, which I think that really showed in their production,” said Giarnese.