Fun Home is an ironic title for a beautiful coming of age play

From Left, Erin Kommor, Lila Gold and Moira Stone portray novelist Alison Bechdel at differnt stages of her life in “Fun Home” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts through October 28.

Fun Home: Musical. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron. Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks of the Silicon Valley, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View.  (650) 463-1960 or visit October 3 – 28, 2018

Fun Home is an ironic title for a beautiful coming of age play. Rating: ★★★★★

Last year TheatreWorks successfully mounted the musical The Three Immigrants that was based a Japanese animated novel. This year they have brought to the Bay Area the musical based on Alison Bechdel’s bestselling graphic memoir “Fun Home” published in 2006.  The musical adaptation made its award winning Broadway debut in 2013 and since has been successfully mounted in regional theaters to rave reviews. TheatreWorks under Robert Kelley’s direction have perfectly created a charming, thoughtful and bittersweet evening of theater that should not be missed.

The author as the protagonist Alison is played by Moira Stone. She is always on stage while creating graphics defining her past being acted out by small Alison (Lisa Gold/Ruth Keith) age 8 and college aged medium Alsion (Erin Kommor).  The ‘fun home’ is a marvelous Victorian mansion personally restored by her closeted father Bruce (James Lloyd Reynolds). There is a family mortuary attached. It is there where small Alison and her two brothers have fun playing in the casket room making up a TV ad:“We got Kleenex

And your choice of psalm.

Think of Bechdel

When you need to embalm!”

Along with this simple charming bit of music Tesori and Kron have written songs that are rightfully described as “haunting yet amusing” and “one of the most original musicals of its time.”

The play is a series of chronologic flashbacks beginning with small Alison as a typical tomboy preferring denim jeans and tennis shoes that is the first tip off of her eventual sexual persuasion. On the surface her father Bruce has all the attributes of being a good provider as an English teacher, expert in home restoration and manager of the mortuary. But the perfectionist nature creates friction within the family and is a means of hiding his secret gay life that affects all.

Adding to his attempts to change Alison’s dress he also monitors the books that she reads even when she goes off to college.

Their relationship may be strained but they do share loving moments. One such moment is embodied in “playing airplane” where she visualizes seeing the entire county “to the edge of the world” while being elevated by Bruce. That semirural county is in Pennsylvania and is not part of the country in which to be a closeted gay.

In one scene early in the play Bruce brings a young adult to see the expert restoration of the house on Maple Street.  Wife Helen is aware that the motivation is for a sexual liaison that she tolerates while playing the piano in “Helen’s Etude.”

Each scene adds a layer of life as Alison matures and heads off to college ambivalent about her lesbian personae. When she meets Joan ( Ayelet Firstenberg) there is an unforgettable scene between the two with a show stopper “Changing my Major” (to Joan).

As Alison fully accepts her lesbianism she informs her parents by sending a letter that is oddly semi-neglected with the suggestion that they do not wish to know even though Joan is apparently fully accepted by the family.

Bruce has persisted in his excursions to find young men but has a nervous breakdown when he is sent to psychotherapy after an assignation with a young high school student. Darkness envelopes the family and Bruce ends his life by stepping in front of a semitrailer truck. 

Collating the individual facts/scenes does little justice to this absolute gem of theater. Along with the splendorous musical score the acting is superb and the staging sublime. Erin Kommor as medium Alison makes you feel the joy and pain of her journey to acceptance.  James Lloyd Reynolds would earn a Tony Award for his descent from perfectionism and control into semi-madness. Crissy Guerrero brings to life wife Helen’s ambivalence and inner turmoil.  Seventh grader Lila Gold is a future adult star.  Moira Stone as the author Alison is a perfect part of the action without detracting from her characters of memory.

The meticulous details of Andrea Bechert’s scenic design are given added meaning with lights and sound by Steven B. Mannshardt and Cliff Caruthers respectively.  William Liberatore and the fine seven piece orchestra earn accolades. Running time is 96 minutes of pure theatrical genius.

CAST:  Moira Stone (Alison), Erin Kommor (Medium Alison), and Lila Gold (Small Alison), James Lloyd Reynolds (Bruce, Alison’s father), Crissy Guerrero (Helen, Alison’s mother), Jack Barrett and Dylan Kento Curtis share the role of (Christian, Alison’s older brother).  Billy Hutton and Oliver Copaken Yellin share the role of (John, Alison’s younger brother), Ayelet Firstenberg plays (Joan, Alison’s college girlfriend), Michael Doppe.

CREATIVE TEAM: Directed by Robert Kelley; Musical Direction by William Liberatore; Associate Director/Choreographer Dottie Lester-White; Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert;Costume Designer B. Modern; Lighting Designer Steven B. Mannshardt;Sound Designer Cliff Caruthers; Stage Manager Randall K. Lum.

Running time about 95 minutes without intermission. This is a must see play.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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