By Beki Pineda
FUN HOME – Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron; Music by Jeanine Tesori; Directed by Len Matheo. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington, Golden) through March 4, 2018. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com.
More and more I’m convinced that smaller is better. While I greatly enjoyed the touring production of FUN HOME that came through Denver some time ago, seeing – really seeing – it again on the intimate space of Miners Alley was more enjoyable. It doesn’t really need the huge art wall and the elaborate furniture described in the script. A few well chosen pieces conveys the surroundings for this play that is really about the people.
While the story is about a closeted gay father, his disappointed but determined wife, and their three children – one of whom is telling the story of her remembered childhood from the perspective of an adult – it is really about growing up in a troubled family and discovering your own path through life. As described in Time Magazine, it is “a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds”. The narrator Alison discovers that she is gay before she figures out that her Dad is too.
The title refers to one of the family businesses – a funeral home. Alison and her brothers have a delightful nonchalance about the existence of a funeral parlor and corpses in another part of their house. One of the cutest numbers is their musical commercial for the family business. Alison is shocked one day when her father calls her into the embalming room to hand him a pair of scissors; the kids have never been allowed to go into that part of the home. She doesn’t know whether to be honored or fearful.
Other songs reflect the vagueness of the family parenting style as they repeatedly delay acting on anything with “Maybe Not Right Now”. The hopes and dreams of both mother and father are expressed in “I Want . . . .” with unfulfilled longing. As in so many homes, shame was used as a parenting tool. “Well, if you want to be the only little girl at the party not wearing a pretty dress, that’s up to you.” – pretty dresses were not Alison’s style.
Alison is portrayed using three actresses. Young Alison is played by Sophia Dotson, a sixth grader who brings an uncanny strength to this little girl’s confusion. She brings life to all her scenes, revealing an early admiration for a certain type of woman in a song extolling “your swagger, your bearing, the just right clothes you’re wearing”. Middle Alison as the college age student making discoveries about herself is given a sweet awkwardness by Abigail Kochevar. The one generation contrast between her nervous ease at “coming out” and her father’s inability to acknowledge his own conflicted sexuality is heartbreaking. Susannah McLeod as the adult narrator looking back is also a look-alike doppelganger for the real Alison Bechdel. A clever factor of Alison’s growth into self-knowledge is the length of her hair. It goes from longer to shorter as she becomes more sure of herself.
Also more and more I’m convinced that there is nothing Rory Pierce can’t do. I know – double negative – but it’s true. He dances, he sings (heartbreakingly beautifully), he can play bad guys, he can play clowns, he can be noble, he can be venal, and he has a smile that melts the heart of everyone in the audience. In this, he plays the tormented and despairing father Bruce who repairs and restores old houses because he can’t fix the one he lives inside. Because who he is fights with who he wants to be, his life and his marriage are one long deception that gets the better of him occasionally. He is so absorbed in his own regrets that he can’t see the pain he causes. Yet he is a loving father and a proud husband.
His wife Helen is an accomplished actress and musician and is played by accomplished actress and musician Heather Lacy. She is a woman exhausted by the daily grind of the deception in which she is forced to participate. She has so much – talent, beauty, charm, a lovely family, a beautiful house – and yet the façade she lives behind is tearing her apart. “I want . . . . .”
The supporting players are wonderful. Brody Lineaweaver and Jack Eller play Young Alison’s brothers and partners in fun. Chloe McLeod is Joan, the college student who confirms Middle Alison’s suspicions about her own sexuality. Marco Robinson plays a variety of young men who enter Bruce’s life in concealed ways for stolen moments.
Also supporting is the seven on-stage band members led by Mitch Samu, featuring a cello and a violin in addition to the usual instruments. Jonathan Scott-McKean’s simple but effective set design features and uses two small turntables to great effect. Vance McKenzie’s lighting design delineates the stage and enhances the story.
And, last but not least, pulling all the strings and creating the lovely production is Director Len Matheo, who explains there are no political axes to be ground with this production. It is a simple story of a complicated family told with music and humor. It enhances author Alison Bechdel’s desire to prove that “women are people too”.
A WOW factor of 9.5!