TR Robertson –San Diego Repertory Theatre’s 43rd Season opened Wednesday with an award winning musical, “Fun Home”, that will have theatre goers pondering their own relationships with their parents as they grew up and struggles we all go through with personal romantic relationships. The situations surrounding the family in, ”Fun Home”, may not be quite the same, but the mysteries that surround each family member are similar. How much do we really know about each and every one close to us? The musical, adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, taken from a graphic memoir written by Alison Bechdel, surrounds the strained relationship Alison had as a child with her father as she grew into adulthood and her acceptance that she was a lesbian and he was a closet homosexual and her struggles with her desire to tell her parents.
Bechdel’s, Fun Home, referred to as an “autobiographical tragicomic” tells the story of her childhood and the years leading up to her father’s suicide and shortly after. The Kron/Tesori musical was some five years in the making, before its premier Off-Broadway at The Public Theatre in 2013. It would be win three Lucille Lortel Awards, two Obie Awards and eight Drama Desk Awards. It would open on Broadway at The Circle in the Square Theatre in 2015 where the musical would be nominated for 12 Tony’s, winning five, including Best Musical, and would receive a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album.
Daren Scott Photographer
The musical is interesting in the fact that the lead character, Alison, will act as the narrator, ghostly wandering through her life at age 9, when she first began to experience her attraction to her own sex, then to age 19, when she was a freshman in college and had her first sexual experience with a woman. The musical will go back and forth between these time periods with “grown-up” Alison filling in the gaps with information about her father and her family including the facts she would discover as an adult. Along the way, we will see her father, a high school English teacher and part time funeral home owner, display a range of ideosyncrancies, including the fact he is a closeted homosexual involved in extra-marital affairs with underage males. All of this would build to a climax in his marriage and with his children, even as Alison tries to get her mother and father to understand what she is going through.
The musical opens with 43 year old Alison searching for inspiration for her cartoons and captions, as she searches through a box of items from her past. Playing middle aged Alison is Amanda Naughton, veteran of numerous productions. Amanda, as Alison, clearly and calmly guides the audience through the complex relationship she had with her father. The emotion of the relationship comes out in “Telephone Wire” as she tries to gather the courage to tell her father what she is going through, as does her father. Playing small Alison, for this performance, is Taylor Coleman, making her San Diego Rep debut and presents an outstanding performance with great stage presence. She and fellow performers Jacob Farry, as her younger brother John, and Hayden Crocker, as her other brother Christian, received a huge, rousing applause for their presentation of “Come to the Fun Home”. This song has the children performing an ad they put together for the father’s funeral home, complete with using a can of Pledge as a microphone and great choreography, set around a coffin. Taylor also sings an emotional song, “Ring of Keys”, as she experiences her first visual encounter with a woman she feels she can identify with. Playing medium Alison is Claire Adams, also making her San Diego Rep debut. Claire presents Alison as a somewhat flighty, on the edge young lady trying to find her way away from home and trying to decide how to act on the growing feelings she is developing. Her presentation of “Not Too Bad” and a very funny “Changing My Major”, sung after her first sexual experience with a woman, stand out for Claire.
Playing the father, Bruce, is Jim Stanek, also making his San Diego Rep debut. Stanek perfectly captures the over bearing, slightly eccentric, demanding, conflicted, distant father. As time passes in the household, Bruce becomes more and more distant from his wife, Helen, and the coldness is clearly shown on stage in his dealings with the children and with Helen. It will build to the number, “Edges of the World” where you can see how far Bruce has been personally driven by his demons and his tragic ending. Stanek captures, with a wonderful presentation, the inner agony Bruce dealt with during his life. Playing his wife, Helen, is veteran San Diego actress Bets Malone. Bets, as Helen, presents her as a woman, lost in her own world yet wanting to hold the family together, even as she knows what is happening around her, until things reach a boiling point. Bets sings “Days and Days”, after her conversation with college aged Alison, with gut wrenching, emotional power, as she is pushed to the edge of her world.
Playing Joan, Alison’s first romantic college relationship, is Alexis Young and playing a number of male roles (Roy/Pete/Mark/Bobby Jeremy), all part of Bruce’s past, is Conlan Ledwith. Young has performed before at the San Diego Rep and Conlan is making his San Diego Rep debut.
Directing “Fun House” is San Diego Rep Co-Founder and Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse. His creative team for this musical included Music Director Robert Meffe, Choreographer Javier Velasco, Scenic Designer Sean Fanning, Lighting & Projection Designer David Lee Cuthbert, Costume Designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings, Sound Designer Matt Lescault-Wood, Wig & Hair Designer Peter Herman and Stage Manager Chandra R.M. Anthenill.
“Fun Home” is an emotional trip, with a family that had more issues to deal with than a family should have to deal with, and the story of a young woman’s experience as she deals with her own emotional journey to understanding with this family and with life itself. As Alison says toward the end of the musical, “I had a life I thought I understood”.
“Fun Home” will be on the Lyceum Stage until September 30th. The Lyceum Stage is located next to Horton Plaza. Tickets for the musical are available at 619-544-1000 or go to www.sdrep.org. Next up for SD Rep is “Actually”, on stage beginning October 11th.