Right now, lighthearted musicals and theatrical adaptations of classic films are en vogue. As such, it is becoming more and more rare to see theatre that truly and unabashedly tackles the tougher stuff that life is made of, but Lisa Kron’s Fun Home, onstage now at DPAC and adapted from Alison Bechdel’s powerful graphic novel, does not shy away from the touchy topics that all people struggle with- family, the notion of home, the influences of upbringing on adult life, and the complex conundrum that is human sexuality. As a result of its unflinching exploration of these topics- all through the eyes and memories of one woman, lesbian cartoonist Alison (Kate Shindle)– the production, under the direction of Sam Gold, comes across as authentic, honest, and incredibly powerful.
The story opens on a young version of Alison (Alesssandra Baldacchino), one who desperately seeks her distant father, Bruce’s (Robert Petkoff)attention. The audience soon comes to realize that Bruce is a deeply troubled man. A perfectionist restorer of historic homes, English teacher, and funeral director by day, he is also a man running from his own homosexuality and regularly giving in to sexual trysts, or at least attempted ones, often with underage students. Despite his secret life, a life that his young daughter is blissfully unaware of, his wife Helen (Susan Moniz), helps her husband to keep up their glittering facade, dealing with her own sufferings and disappointment along the way.
Interwoven with this story of Alison’s past is a narrative surrounding her own sexual discovery as she enters college, discovers she is a lesbian, and begins a romantic relationship with her self-assured peer, Joan (Karen Eilbacher). The audience also gets to see present-day Alison (the aforementioned Shindle) as the story’s narrator and onlooker, a puzzled one who examines and tries to make sense of her troubled past.
Despite the deep and dark subject matter, there are funny moments in this self-proclaimed “tragicomic.” Alison, at all stages, is likable and self-deprecating enough to make her character relatable, no matter what she faces, and each of the actresses who portrays her is spot-on in keeping up with the flow and realism of the character.
Medium Alison or “College Alison,” as portrayed by Abby Corrigan, is particularly effective; her portrayal oozes with the awkwardness and extreme self-consciousness that goes with slowly coming into one’s own, making her version of Alison incredibly true to life. Baldacchino in the youngest version of Alison is also excellent, and one of her funniest moments comes in the hysterical “Come to the Fun Home,” in which young Alison and her brothers perform an in-coffin (pretend) commercial for their father’s funeral home. And even present-day Alison, though much of her stage-time involves simply watching, is strong and precise here, with Shindle active and emotionally entrenched in each unfolding scene.
It is not just the “Alisons” who do their job well either. Petkoff is the perfect mix of relatable, detestable, and, ultimately, sad and understandable in his multi-layered, brooding portrayal of Bruce. Likewise, Moniz creates a thoroughly forlorn character who knows how to shrink and wither with all the strength she has. Eilbacher is also wonderfully feisty and lovable with her characterization of Joan.
The strong acting, on all counts, as well as the fun but never “too-much” choreography and the tense staging, not to mention the brilliant, oh-so-honest writing, all add up to a show that, at its core, is a collection of beautifully chosen, poignant vignettes into one woman’s life and the coming-of-age experience she undergoes as she tries to make sense of it all. This- the coming-of-age aspect- is what ultimately makes this show one that anyone, regardless of sexuality, can relate to and love. And, while in some regards, the ending may be bleak, the show’s message is ultimately one of hope and the possibility of change, making it an uplifting and worthwhile experience despite (or perhaps because of) its darkness.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents FUN HOME at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 and 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.
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.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://funhomebroadway.com/#about.
TOUR CAST/CREATIVE TEAM: http://funhomebroadway.com/cast.php.
DPAC‘S 2016-17 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
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).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.