FUN HOMEMusic by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directed by Sam Gold
Scenic and Costume Design by David Zinn
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design by Kai Harada
Hair and Wig Design by Rick Caroto
Music Direction by Micah Young
Music Supervision by Chris Fenwick
Choreography by Danny Mefford
CAST (In order of appearance)
Alison --- Kate Shindle
Small Alison --- Carly Gold
Small Alison (at certain performances) … Jadyn Schwartz
Bruce --- Robert Petkoff
Medium Alison --- Abby Corrigan
Helen --- Susan Moniz
Christian --- Luké Barbato Smith
John --- Henry Boshart
Joan --- Victoria Janicki
Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy --- Robert Hager
Reviewed Performance: 9/13/2017
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The riveting Fun Home is the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. Adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same title, the story tells of Ms. Bechdel’s own journey toward sexual identity, and her search to understand the mysteries surrounding the life and death of her gay father.
Circle in the Square Theatre became the home in March of 2015 for the Broadway run of Fun Home. The production won five of the twelve Tony Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Musical.
The plot involves successful middle-aged cartoonist Alison Bechdel working on her graphic memoir. As she recalls her childhood when she was aged around ten, and her freshman year in college when she comes out of the closet as a lesbian and begins her first relationship, we shift back and forth in time as her complex relationship with her father is revealed. All three, Alison, Medium Alison and Small Alison appear on stage at the same time as the journey unfolds with Alison as observer and chronicler of what’s happening
The adaptation of Ms. Bechdel’s memoir by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron has resulted in “an emotionally packed piece of theatre, full of joy, heart, sorrow and uncomfortable reality,” to quote Adam Hetrick, editor-in-chief of Playbill.
Kate Shindle plays Alison, the oldest of the three incarnations of Ms. Bechdel’s life. Her main job in this show is to react to what she is remembering/seeing unfold before us. If acting is reacting, then Ms. Shindle acts up a hurricane. She draws us in simply by the acuteness with which she observes the activity around her. Never offstage, she is never less than completely focused, almost vibrating with intensity in scene after scene as she struggles to understand and accept what’s happening. When we finally get to see her interact with her father during a car trip, the effect is devastating. Thanks to the force of her previous scenes, everything she has remembered floods the trip with her father with layers of past and present. All the hopes, disappointments, love and hate, are there in her performance for us to experience. It’s a wonderfully nuanced presentation. Oh, yeah, and she sings great too! “Did you ever imagine I’d hang on to your stuff, Dad? Me either. But I guess I always knew that someday I was going to draw you… In cartoons. Yes, Dad, I know. You think cartoons are silly. But I draw cartoons, and I need real things to draw from, ‘because I don’t trust memory.” Lyrics by Lisa Kron.
Small Alison is given a rousing and fully fleshed out performance by the superb Carly Gold who is making her professional debut in this production. This young lady is charismatic, intuitive and never less than completely in the moment. Her singing is strong and her more subtle moments, as in the song “Ring of Keys,” when she first realizes her attraction for another female, are amazing for someone her age. All the “feels” are there on the surface for us to observe, but it goes much deeper with her characterization. Family relationships are clear and handled deftly. Playing the flying game with her father literally lifts her into the air, a living metaphor for finding your true self and learning to soar. “Your swagger and your bearing and the just right clothes You’re wearing. Your short hair and your dungarees. And your lace up boots and your keys on your ring of Keys.” Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Robert Petkoff embodies the father, Bruce, with a powerful and affecting voice and a completeness that is breathtaking to watch. So many things are going on with this character all the time, and Mr. Petkoff manages to show us all of them. There’s the regular guy, father, undertaker and passionate builder, lover of books and decorator, and then there’s the closeted, conflicted, often angry and reckless Bruce. Scene after scene he enters, bares his soul – often by hiding it with busyness – and makes us care deeply. “Edges of the World” is his last solo number and it will bring you to your knees with the raw pain and roiling layers of emotion that Mr. Petkoff brings to this role. “So much damage, Broken Windows…Bad foundation Twisting floorboards,… Something’s cracking, Something’s rotting…But the edges of the world that held me up have gone away, and I’m falling into nothingness Or flying into something so sublime. … But when the sunlight hits the parlor wall At certain times of day, I see how fine this house could be. I see it so damn clear!” Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Every performer in this production is strong, but I am particularly taken with Abby Corrigan’s characterization of Medium Alison. As the gawky, unsure college student, Ms. Corrigan finds the path to giving us all the struggles of a waking realization of her sexuality along with the general adolescent searching for her place in her family, with peers, and the world. Her scenes in the dorm room with Joan are charming, combining eagerness, awkwardness and yearning in one irresistible package. “I’m Changing my Major to Joan” is maybe the most unlikely love song you’ll ever hear, but Ms. Corrigan just flies with it. Singing with passion and surges of realization, she takes the song and makes it the BIG moment it should be. In the later scenes with the family, Ms. Corrigan uses her palate to shade the darker sides of her relationships. “I’m changing my major to Joan. I’m changing my major to sex with Joan….With a minor in kissing Joan. Foreign studies to Joan’s inner thighs. A seminar on Joan’s ass in her Levi’s.’’’ Overnight, everything changed. I am not prepared. I’m dizzy. I’m, nauseous. I’m, shaking. I’m scared. Am I falling into nothingness, or flying into something so sublime? I don’t know, but I’m changing my major to Joan.” Lyrics by Lisa Kron.
Helen, the quiet, rather reserved mother, is portrayed by Susan Moniz in a performance that explodes across the auditorium in her big number “Days and Days” and that left me stunned. Bit by bit she reveals to us the pain and confusion that make up the inner life of this mother with a gesture, a look, a hesitation or a sad smile. When the time comes to finally speak the truth to her daughter, it’s as if a door has been opened and we see the darkness hidden all these years behind it. A deeply felt and elegantly structured performance. “Days made of bargains I made because I thought as a wife I was meant to… And now my life is shattered and made bare. Days and days and days…” Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Victoria Janicki as Joan is the perfect foil for the college scenes with Medium Alison. Feisty and energetic, subtly sexual, she seems to enjoy her place in the story. Henry Boshart as John, Luke Barbato Smith, and Robert Hager in multiple roles, all perform admirably and complete this very strong ensemble of players. The children, especially, are delightful.
Scenic and costume design by David Zinn are outstanding. The scenery ranges from essentially a bare stage with pieces of furniture and the orchestra on a platform USR against a bare brick wall, to a wildly elaborate interior living room set and an enormous white brick wall with doors that becomes an unlikely ceiling. All of it works superbly to further the story and support the emotional journeys of the characters. Costumes reveal personality and seem like real clothing. Rick Caroto’s hair and wig designs fit right in without drawing undue attention and solidify characterizations.
Ben Stanton’s lighting design takes this story about a cartoonist and paints it with illuminations both practical and aesthetic. With a mood-enhancing color or angle here, and a fun-filled strobe, disco ball-twirling effect there, he never forgets this is a play of remembrance and discovery and uses his skill to guide along the way.
Chris Fenwick is the music supervisor for this production and Micah Young the music director, with Antoine Silverman acting as the music coordinator. All of these men work together to make Ms. Tesori’s music soar and stir and give the show its underlying strength. Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron lift this production above the usual musical with terse, telling and evocative dialogue and words for the songs that grow out of the moment and never feel tacked on or unnecessary. As choreographer, Danny Mefford uses the music to give his performers movement that fits the moment and, as with the children in “Come to the Fun Home,” is great fun to watch. All his dance moves feel organic to the action of the story and never imposed.
Mr. Gold’s direction is so precise and so clarifying of each emotional moment that the story unfolds in pictures that speak as vividly as the dialogue and never leave us in doubt of what’s really happing in the lives of these people. The show builds and ebbs and flows, never faltering in the trajectory Mr. Gold has set. Watch the family scene in the living room when Medium Alison brings Joan home for a visit. Spaced all across the stage are the people who, instead of being close, are standing isolated from each other, straining to close the gaps or make them even wider. One never doubts the objectives of the participants or their reasons for their actions. Dialogue is rapid and often over-lapping, resulting in a quickly paced, but never rushed production. The skill and delight of this is especially apparent in the scenes in Medium Alison’s dorm room.
Fun home, funeral home, bought-an-old-house-to-fix-up home, make-this-house-perfect home, These all resonate with the father’s character and the larger question of what makes a home. Keep up appearances, dress correctly, don’t let people see who you really are and watch out for all these doors everywhere in case you open one that lets you out of your closet before you’re ready.
Can we find truth and release behind that door? Are secrets ever better left hidden? Can we, like Medium Alison, choose to open a door, literally or figuratively and find our true selves? We decide to open doors or decide to close them in our lives, sometime permanently. Living honestly can be liberating, sure, but sometimes when you open that door, you can get hit by oncoming headlights.
See Fun Home at the ATT Performing Arts Center in the Winspear Opera House for an evening you will long remember, performances to rival any you’ve seen, and a script and music that will transport and challenge you to find your own home and perhaps explore what may be waiting behind all those doors. “Am I falling into nothingness, or flying into something so sublime?” Lyrica by Lisa Kron.
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Final Performance September 24, 2017
Tickets $25 - $139.
For information and tickets call 214-8800-0202 or go to attpac.org