Growing up challenges us all in the best of circumstances. Growing up with secrets to hide in a dysfunctional environment can turn problem to pain.
Like some girls who go through a tomboy stage of development, Alison, the central character in Fun Home, balks at wearing dresses and patent leather shoes, preferring the more active jeans and tennis shoes. But while some tomboys may transition to more girlish ways, some may feign girlish ways for a lifetime while concealing their true inclinations. Others come out as lesbians.
Fun Home looks at coming-of-age and coming-out through the eyes of Alison Bechdel, whose graphic novel memoir is the source material. TheatreWorks offers a delightful production of the Tony Award winning musical.
On the surface, Alison lives a routine, middle-American adolescence in a two-parent, three-children family. Her father, Bruce, is a man-for-all-seasons – a high school English teacher, the renovator of the museum-like grand old house that the family lives in, and the manager of his family’s funeral parlor. But the urbane and loving Bruce is a also a finicky perfectionist with inflexible viewpoints and a father’s position to enforce them on a child. What’s more, he has his own secrets to hide, which may drive some other behaviors.
Structurally, the play is in multiple flashback format. We see Alison at three points in her life – around eight-years of age, going to college, and adult woman. The action oscillates from one time frame to another smoothly, with Adult Alison always observing and sometimes participating in her past life.
The dominant atmosphere is light as Small Alison and Medium Alison learn about life and herself, supported by bright music from Jeanine Tesori and perceptive lyics by Lisa Kron. Especially funny is when Small Alison and her siblings do a riotous send-up of the funeral industry, “Come to the Fun Home” as they sing and dance in and around a coffin. Equally charming is when Medium Alison as a collegiate freshman celebrates falling in love and wanting to devote every moment of her life to the object of her affection with the singing soliloquy “Changing my Major (to Joan).”
But Fun Home is also moving, as many of the situations have universal application, and they are treated with powerful insight. Dark moments creep in with regularity, mostly related to Bruce’s demons and smothering dominance. In his mind, Alison doesn’t select the right directions in her decision making; Alison never executes as perfectly as she should; and Alison lets the wrong influences enter her thinking.
The cast is led by James Lloyd Reynolds who captures Bruce’s complex personality, which switches mood with disarming speed and direction. He possesses the charisma of a con artist along with the anxiety of a high wire artist. From youngest to oldest, Lila Gold, Erin Kommor, and Moira Stone adeptly portray Alison’s stages of development.
Artistic Director, and director of this show, Robert Kelley, is clearly an advocate of “if you’ve got it, use it” when it comes to the stage’s extensive fly system. It’s striking to see a blank space quickly transform into Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert’s stunning set, as pieces ease into place from above and from the wings. All other systems work well, except that the sound balance during much of Stone’s singing was off, with her vocals less audible than they should be.
Fun Home is about discovery and relationships and the compromises people make in order to get by. It is also about generations, and how dealing with being different has evolved and changed how people feel about themselves and how others feel about them. This is a sensitive and entertaining story of being and becoming.
Fun Home, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, and based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, is produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and plays at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts at 500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA, through October 28, 2018.