The Durham Performing Arts Center’s presentation of Fun Home might be subtitled “How a Lesbian Cartoonist Revisits Her Youth in Order to Understand Herself, Her Childhood, and Her Conflicted (and Closeted) Father.” But don’t worry. We haven’t even given you any spoilers, because this is the setup from the start of the show. And what a show it is! And it’s a musical to boot!
We had not read anything about this show prior to our arrival at DPAC; and boy, were we blown away with the production. The music was crisp, the acting was perfect, and the story was a universal tale about memory and finding oneself.
Based upon a 2006 graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, the play uses three different actresses to play Bechdel at three key stages of her life: 10-year-old Small Alison (played by Alessandra Baldacchino), 19-year-old Middle Alison (portrayed by Abby Corrigan), and 43-year-old Alison (played by Kate Shindle). Grownup Alison acts as a continuing stage presence, drifting from scene to scene and watching iterations of herself during important moments of her own life and development.
Alison’s Dad (portrayed by Robert Petkoff) is a part-time mortician, and the family lives in a big Victorian mansion. Ultimately, Alison and her two siblings (played by Lennon Nate Hammond as John and Pierson Salvador as Christian) — surrounded by history, a strict father, and death — call it not a funeral home, but a fun home. Despite the setting, the show is really about living, loving, and finding one’s way despite your parents’ mistakes and weaknesses. And who amongst us can’t relate to that?
As Alison reminisces about the past, she analyzes each scene with a critical eye, all the while drawing her recollections in a sketchbook, reconsidering her memory of events, and reframing her past. In trying to understand her childhood and her sexuality, she comes to understand her mother (portrayed by Susan Moniz) and father as well.
Dad’s “friend” Roy (played by Robert Hager), for instance, was not just a, quote, friend of the family, unquote, — he was Dad’s lover. Dad’s trip to New York was not a family-friendly event, but an excuse for Dad to “cruise” the gay scene.
Alison Bechdel’s coming-out in college was a mortifying and yet glorious self-awakening for her. (Karen Eilbacher portrays Middle Alison’s college friend and lover Joan.)
The actors are simply superb, and they all had such glorious voices across the board. The songs are clever, and the pacing was great. The band was seated onstage behind a screen, and they played with aplomb.
The action moved along briskly (there was no intermission), and there was just the right amount of music to help tell the story. We loved the kids’ youthful advertisement “Come to the Fun Home!” as well as “I’m Changing My Major!” — an exuberant tribute to sex.
A standout in the cast was Abby Corrigan. Her portrayal of Middle Alison’s young-adult awkwardness was simply spot on. She beautifully portrayed her own dawning self-acceptance mixed with fear that her family would not accept her and her sexuality. The audience laughed with Alison Bechdel during her awkward stage, cheered when she accepted herself, cringed with her when she told her parents, and cried with her at the play’s end.
It was a great decision to place grownup Alison as an additional observer, as we see her reactions to how she handled herself and know that she is laughing, too. We also know that she made it through her upbringing to become a successful adult, despite the obstacles in her way.
We should also make mention of scenic and costume designer David Zinn’s terrific set. It changes from a minimalist brick wall and writing desk, to a dorm room, and to a fully authentic looking Victorian mansion by show’s end. It almost seems as though the set gets more fleshed out as Alison recalls more details from her past.
As you can tell, we thought this show was stellar. We could tell from the excited talk as folks were leaving the theater that they, too, were thrilled to have seen this production. The First National Tour of Fun Home has a brief run — through Sunday — at the Durham Performing Arts Center, so grab tickets while you still can!
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 28th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Allison Hussey (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2016/10/28/theater-review-once-you-get-over-it-not-being-the-book-fun-home-soars-at-dpac and Oct. 19th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/fun-home/Event?oid=4995523; Oct. 26th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-FUN-HOME-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20161026 and Oct. 12th video interview with Susan Moniz, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Susan-Moniz-of-FUN-HOME-National-Tour-20161012; Oct. 26th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-fun-home-brings-tears-laughter/article_6aeec3a8-9bac-11e6-8d23-3b9dbdd872e6.html and Oct. 20th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/fun-home-tony-award-winning-musical-coming-to-dpac/article_fdf1f5c6-9648-11e6-b61f-1bda6619041b.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Oct. 26th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article110572082.html; Oct. 26th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Anna Katherine Carey for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/thought-provoking-poignant-fun-home-is-a-great-blend-of-comedy-and-drama/ and Oct. 19th preview by Anna Katherine Carey for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/fun-home-is-a-story-that-needs-to-be-told/; Oct. 26th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/10/fun-home-at-dpac-is-a-complex-and-deeply-moving-coming-of-age-story/; Oct. 26th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com review by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/heartbreaking-family-drama-fun-home-hits-dpac/16162067/ and Oct. 26th video interview with actress Kate Shindle, conducted by Kathy Hanrahan: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/video/16165574/; and Oct. 2nd New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/article/tony-winning-musical-fun-home-begins-us-tour. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 25th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/10/2015-best-musical-tony-winner-fun-home-is-drawn-from-life-cartoonist-alison-bechdels-life/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents FUN HOME at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27, 8 p.m. Oct. 28, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 29, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, NC 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $35-$160 (including fees). Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2212134.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/fun-home and https://www.facebook.com/events/1600951083569067/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://funhomebroadway.com/#about.
THE TOUR: http://funhomebroadway.com/ and https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/fun-home–501161.
TOUR CAST/CREATIVE TEAM: http://funhomebroadway.com/cast.php.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/tickets-go-on-sale-july-16-for-fun-home.
DPAC‘S 2016-17 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29th, performance.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006 graphic novel): http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/fun-home-2 (author’s web page), http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/Fun-Home/9780618871711 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_Home (Wikipedia).
Alison Bechdel (Beech Creek, PA-born cartoonist and graphic novelist): http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/ (official website), http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/blog (her blog), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alison-bechdel-497808 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Bechdel (Wikipedia).
Fun Home (2013 Off-Broadway and 2015 Broadway musical): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/58581/fun-home (Samuel French Inc.), http://www.lisakron.org/Lisa-Kron-theWorkOf-FunHome.html (Lisa Kron’s web page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5563 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/fun-home-497806 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/funhomemusical/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/funhomemusical (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_Home_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Jeanine Tesori (music): http://www.masterworksbroadway.com/artist/jeanine-tesori/ (Official Masterworks Broadway Site), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/4259 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jeanine-tesori-12488 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1507221/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanine_Tesori (Wikipedia).
Lisa Kron (lyrics and book): http://www.lisakron.org/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/2906 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lisa-kron-406666 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1207088/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Kron (Wikipedia).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.