A nonlinear remembrance of family and self, Fun Home was lauded as a groundbreaking piece when it opened on Broadway in 2015, winning the Tony for Best Musical that year. Based on Alison Bechdel’s extraordinary graphic novel of the same name, this autobiographical musical follows Bechdel in triplicate through the years: her ten year old self, her college self, and the artist she becomes all appear onstage, often simultaneously.
Best known for her comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For,” Bechdel has long been a voice for lesbians and gay rights, and Fun Home documents her recollections of her family: her closeted gay father, frustrated mother, and her young brothers. Yet it’s by no means a simple coming-out story: for anyone with family (and that’s all of us), recognition of the difficulty of communicating with people you love will resonate deeply.
Center Stage gifts us with a superb production of this heartbreaking work. Director Hana Sharif has assembled a near-perfect cast: as Alison, Andrea Prestinario guides us, with bravery and humor, through her memories while at the same time trying to make sense of them herself. As Bruce Bechdel, her father locked in an unhappy world that doesn’t fit him, Jeffry Denman is both tyrannical and worthy of our deepest sympathies. His is the most difficult role: wound as tightly as a spring, he yearns for a different existence that even he can’t bear to put into words.
closes February 24, 2019
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Bechdel does his utmost to fill his days away from his family; with so much on his plate, his life verges on mania. As the director of the family funeral home business (the Fun Home of the title); he prepares the dead for burial, while also teaching English at the local high school. He comes closest to his ideal life while restoring old buildings in their Pennsylvania town, and the trio of occupations becomes a metaphor for his life: as an English teacher, he scouts young men for his affairs, in preparing the dead, he deals with people who ask nothing of him; and while restoring houses, he reaches for a perfection that is impossible to attain. Denman shows us this sad and lonely man who nevertheless loves his family as best he can.
As his wife Helen, Michelle Dawson also has a difficult role: Helen is seen on the sidelines, always working on papers, head down, trying to get through her life with as much dignity as possible. She would be easy to dismiss, and for much of the show, she’s but a shadow. Yet when she finally tells Alison about her father, and the life she’s had to lead, it’s like a dam breaking. Her song “Days and Days” is easily the most shattering song in the show, and Dawson gives us insight into a life no one would wish for.
The show is filled with beautiful songs by the team of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron: “Telephone Wire”, in which Alison tries to talk to her father on a drive through the country, is a short piece, but we are all familiar with the impossibility of speaking hard truths with loved ones. But Fun Home isn’t a musical in the strict sense of the word: expect poems set to music, such as Small Allison (the gifted Molly Lyons) and “Ring Of Keys”, her ode to a butch delivery woman glimpsed in a diner, and her realization that she somehow has something in common with her. It’s a wonder of a song, with words appropriate to a child who hasn’t yet any experience with the world, that there is a place where she will someday belong.
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When Alison finally does experience a world of freedom as a college student at Oberlin College, (Laura Darrell as Medium Allison), she falls for a fellow student (Shannon Tyo as Joan). “Changing My Major” as sung by Darrell, is a funny, exuberant song, and Darrell makes us laugh along while also murmuring “Awww” at seeing the joy of her first love.
Technically, the show is a complex one: whole rooms glide up out of trapdoors, there are multiple projection screens, and the projected maps on the floor have to coordinate with actors onstage. Scenic Designer Scott Bradley has things running like clockwork, and the lighting by Xavier Pierce and projections by Hana S Kim are perfect accompaniments. A special mention must be made of the fine live orchestra, led by conductor Evan Rees.
It would be a shame to miss this production; Center Stage has pulled the best and the brightest to find both cast and crew, and given Fun Home everything it needs to make us wince with recognition. Expect some tears, and expect some laughter. It’ll make you do both: it’s us up there, after all.
In families everywhere, it’s the things left unsaid that are remembered with the most regret- and the most clarity.
Fun Home . Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron . Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel . Director: Hana Sharif . Cast: Laura Darrell as Medium Allison; Michelle Dawson as Helen Bechdel; Jeffry Denman as Bruce Bechdel; Liam Hamilton as Christian Bechdel; Justin Gregory Lopez as Roy/Mark/Pete/ Bobby Jeremy; Molly Lyons as Small Alison; Jon Marten as John Bechdel; Andrea Prestinario as Alison; Shannon Tyo as JoanMusic Director: Evan Rees; Scenic Design: Scott Bradley; Sound Designers: Charles coes, Nathan A Roberts: Lighting Designer: Xavier Pierce; Costume Design: Karen Perry; Projection Designer: Hana S Kim; Choreographer: Jaclyn Miller; Production Dramaturg: Sabine Decatur; Associate Choreographer: Sara Bruner; Assistant Director: Tiffany Fulson; Orchestra: Alex Aucoin; Andy Axelrod; Zach Branch; Amelia Giles; Gerry Kiunkel; MaryAnn Perkel; Evan Rees . Stage Manager: Captain Kate Murphy; Assistant Stage Manager: Danielle Teague-Daniels . Produced by Baltimore Center Stage . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.