Fun Home @ Playhouse Square, Oct. 2--Oct. 22, 2016
Review by Laura Kennelly
Fun Home offers a bumpy, albeit musical, and speedy flight through author Alison Bechdel’s early years. Now playing at the Connor Palace Theater in Playhouse Square, Fun Home touches on secret sex lives, ambivalent parenting, domination, and obsession, and suicide. Not for the kiddos even though it features three charming child actors.
Based on Oberlin graduate Bechdel’s graphic novel, the musical features gorgeous music by Jeanine Tesori with book and witty lyrics by Lisa Kron. Oskaar Eustis and Patrick Willingham directed this Tony-winning New York show.
When I saw the show in New York at the Circle in the Square Theatre, the audience surrounded the stage from above, so we could look down on the actors. The Connor Palace’s more conventional stage worked surprisingly well, with our attention directed to various areas of the relatively cluttered space thanks to David Zinn’s scenic design and Ben Stanton’s lighting. (The lights were scenery in themselves--and in a very good way.)
Time travel necessary in Fun Home is a challenge since it covers Alison’s early growing up years, college, and career beginning. We see the story through the perspective of grown up Alison (a convincing Kate Shindle), still perturbed by her family. She introduces small Alison (a bouncy Alessandra Baldacchino), a little girl who yearns to fly, and Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), an Oberlin student beginning to judge her family. All three actors prove likeable and make us fans of “Alison.”
Robert Petkoff plays Alison’s conflicted father, Bruce. The character doesn’t seem as likeable as he did the first time I saw the play, but perhaps that’s because I now know not to trust unsuspecting young Alison’s eyes. Susan Moniz as Alison’s put-upon mother, Helen, does an excellent job with the one-dimensional part the story assigns her. (I’d love for Bechdel to attempt the story from alternating points of view, starting with the mother: PS: Just checked and she did this, see the graphic memoir Are You My Mother? Now we can finish the story.)
Characters supporting Alison’s life journey include Small Alison’s little brothers John (Lennon Nate Hammond) and Christian (Pierson Salvador). The trio gets well-deserved laughs in the ironically-titled “Come to the Fun Home” as they jump in and out of a showroom casket (one of the family businesses is running a funeral home).
Karen Eilbacher shines as the sexy, friendly Joan, Alison’s Oberlin college girlfriend. She inspires Corrigan’s exuberant “I’m Changing My Major [to Joan].” Rounding out the small cast, Robert Hager plays various hunky men that Alison’s father likes.
A small orchestra directed by Micah Young provided a rich accompaniment to the proceedings just before them on the stage.
Bottom Line: Wait until you’re feeling fairly strong before you see it because it may make you think about things you’d just as soon not, such as dysfunctional families, a daughter’s distress, and how the past provides more than enough “revenge” for a memoirist.
Fun Home runs through October 22. For tickets go to playhousesquare.org or call (216) 241-6000
Photo: (From L) Alessandra Baldacchino as 'Small Alison', Pierson Salvador as 'Christian' and Lennon Nate Hammond as 'John' in Fun Home. Photo by Joan Marcus