San Diego Repertory Theatre invites you to FUN HOME, an uplifting, if moving and bittersweet musical of trying to understand yourself by understanding your family.
Based on the autobiographical “tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, it follows Alison (Amanda Naughton) as she attempts to chronicle her childhood in a small town, to better understand and gain some perspective on her family dynamics and her parents. Her father Bruce (Jim Stanek) was an English teacher and ran the family funeral parlor part time, and her mother Helen (Bets Malone) who was a teacher and an actress.
As adult Alison tries to commit family moments to paper as a panel of a cartoon, she revisits moments from her childhood as Small Allison ( Taylor Coleman and Isabella Pruter alternating), and Medium Alison (Claire Adams) through her teenage and college years. At times Adult Alison finds herself peering over the shoulders of her past self, as she tries to unravel the mystery of her father with his fastidiousness devotion to renovating the family’s Victorian house, his mercurial nature, his life as a closeted gay man, and his death when she was in college.
Led by an excellent Naughton, this first rate cast brings emotional, nuanced, and fun to the stage. It is adult Alison who is exploring where her path and her father’s path diverged, both based on personality, and the societal norms in which they each came of age in.
Don’t worry, this show covers sensitive ground but it is in no way dreary or depressing. What’s the point of growing up with a family run funeral home if you can’t have a little fun with it? The Bechdel children Alison, Christian (Luke Renner and Hayden Crocker alternating) and John (Bobby Chiu and Jacob Farry alternating) have a delightfully entertaining commercial that they wrote, complete with singing and choreography. Later the same kids return in a Partridge family inspired musical number with vibrant costumes that come with the cheerful recall of someone who never looks back at reruns of their childhood favorite shows (for good reason).
Adams as Middle Alison has a standout performance and a show stealing song with “Changing My Major”, a song sung with emotion and elation as she falls in love with her confident college friend Joan, a poised Alexis Louise Young. Malone as Alison’s mother has a powerful ballad “Days and Days” as she gives voice to the things she has been repressing in her marriage to Bruce.
Stanek is an excellent Bruce, who without a doubt walks the most difficult path with this characters duality in all aspects of the life. Bruce is a man of two worlds in more ways than one; likeable but at times unpleasant, loving but infuriated with his family more often than not, warm and open but with sudden changes to cold unreachability.
The music, performed by a seven piece band and conducted by Robert Meffe, is woven throughout the show so seamlessly that the songs feel like a natural progression. Choreography by Javier Velasco is bright and fun for the period.
The set by Sean Fanning is an outline of the family house and sets that can easily trasition also allows for the lighting and projections by David Lee Cuthbert to appear and disappear as fleetingly as memories.
Directed by Sam Woodhouse this one act maintains a brisk pace, without losing any of the precision or evocative emotional elusiveness that drives Alison’s need for familial examination.
This musical is probably one of the best physical examples of how memory works; with moments and realizations appearing with sudden clarity, while others leave questions unanswered.
“Fun home” was a family nickname for the funeral home; it also evokes the image of fun house mirrors, which is an apt comparison for a musical dependent upon memories. Every age and memory brings new perspective, where your eye finds something different in each reflection of the characters. Each highlights different aspects, and presents an ever shifting perspective.
FUN HOME is moving exploration of family love, dynamics, and how to find the truth and context to the hazy details of memory.
FUN HOME is playing through September 30th at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. For ticket and show time information got to www.sdrep.org