Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Musical Theater Review: Fun Home

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel, musical, touring company

I don't really know how to review musical theater, but as I learned in the Better Living Through Criticism blogging challenge, I enjoy reviewing things even if I have no context or qualifications for doing so. Here we go!

Fun Home is based on a brilliant graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. Here's what both the book and the musical are about: Alison grows up in a small Pennsylvania town. Her dad is unpredictable and exacting. Sometimes, he's warm and brilliant and talking about books and intellectual life. Sometimes, he's angry and yelling and the kind of person that makes you feel like no matter what, you can't do anything right.

Have you lived with this type of person? If you have, you'll recognize Bruce (Robert Petkoff), viscerally. The portrayal made me feel a little sick, especially during the part when Helen (Susan Moniz), the mom, makes the kids furiously clean the house while Bruce takes a shower. Then, everyone stands straight for inspection, and Helen sings a line about never knowing what will happen when Bruce comes down the stairs.

In the musical - I saw the national touring company of Fun Home - a 43 year-old Alison (Kate Shindle) remains on stage the whole time. She's trying to write a book about growing up with her dad. She conjures memories and tries to caption them, as in cartoons.  There's a small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), a kid, who wants desperately to be accepted in Bruce's world, but who also finds his demands troubling. There's a medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), a wonderfully awkward first-year college student. Her posture and especially her jeans are awkward. She discovers through reading, and then via Joan (Karen Eilbacher) that she's gay. When she tells her parents this news, she finds out that her dad is also gay.

Memory is paramount in this show. You watch the oldest Alison try to remember things. "It's just memory," I think is what she says. "I'm remembering something." The appropriate sets slide on and off the stage as backdrop for these moments. In fact, the whole show mirrors the writing of Bechdel's memoir. In the beginning, there's no fanfare - Shindle just walks across the stage to her desk and starts working and talking, and you realize it's begun. The orchestra sits upstage on a platform. You see bricks and would-be props around. Then, scenes get built. Drawings get made. Childhood blurs with adolescence blurs with a adulthood. Alison tries to process a terrible tragedy, and the walls appear all around her.

You know something bad is coming, and you want happiness for Alison and her family. It seems like, just like in real life, some things turn out okay, and other things really don't. The songs reflect these dual outcomes. They don't rhyme, and they have repeating refrains about specific images that echo the nature of memory. For instance, what stands out to Small Alison about a handsome butch woman is the woman's huge ring of keys. That's the chorus of the song about that memory - the keys.

Can you tell I loved this? I have seen three great plays of late, two which I reviewed right here. December may become known as the Month of Theater. I hope not. December is busy enough already.



Young love in the back of my English classroom.

When I tried to coach Shef into winning a research study. What is wrong with me?

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