By Patrick Hurley
Dancing on the line between nostalgia and tragedy, Fun Home, playing now at the Ahmanson Theatre, is a testament to the raw power of storytelling. It is a sturdily illustrated expression of the intrinsically universal language of theatrical narrative, executed through a blend of lofty production design and redolent lyricism that will resonate with most audiences because it aspires toward a deeper understanding of something utterly human, empathic, and meritoriously authentic, all through the gifted prose, and astute composition of masterful storytellers.
Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the play tells the story of Alison (Kate Shindle) and her family at three different points in her life. As small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), medium Alison (Abby Corrigan) and as an adult. The significance of the three different Alison’s all has to do with the relationship she has with her father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Both Alison and Bruce are gay, and the heightened focus of their sexuality only serves as a catalyst to the idea that the generation gap is an important indicator in how they each are able to cope with their identity. Where Alison is embracing and exploring, Bruce is pained and suffering giving him a caustic, inappropriate and sometimes cruel reaction toward those around him.
Exploring more than sexuality and identity, the play deals with a daughter’s confounded relationship with her father. This is ultimately a story about Bruce and Alison and how, for a moment, if only one, they found themselves face to face as identical entities completely succinct and separated at the same time. It’s a tragedy that doesn’t wallow in its pain, but rather seeks for some kind of understanding. In a wonderfully theatrical fractured narrative, this play deals with loss, identity and love in a unique and beautiful way. It allows the different time periods all to co-mingle, they bump into each other in order to highlight the human fallibility of memory, and this only serves to tell the story as something more than a memory play, it’s a living work of art that interacts with itself.
Lisa Kron has adapted the graphic novel with great humor and catharsis. Allowing the playfulness of the piece to balance the tragic elements. And the songs add more to this balance. And while there is no showstopper among them, the songs work to reveal character in more profound ways than most Broadway shows are capable of. One needn’t look past “Ring of Keys” to see the depth of a character revealed in song.
The songs also highlight the focus on family that this play spends most of its time dealing with. In fact, this play is mostly about the complex and painful emotions that accompany being a part of a family. The universality of its themes make it not only accessible, but also gives it a sincerity that resonates deeply with the song “Telephone Wire.”
Director Sam Gold plays with different techniques to bring the story to life. There is a hyper-theatricality throughout most of the play, where actors seem completely aware of the fact that this is a play. When in a car, for example, two actors merely sit next to each other, but there is no miming of the actual driving of the car, the actors are merely intimating in a theatrical closeness that allows us to lean in to them and the story, as if we want to be closer too. These little touches throughout heighten the theatricality and keep the story from falling into melodrama.
The cast, also does a tremendous job. It is a brilliantly cast ensemble with Kate Shindle as the oldest Alison holding together the role of narrator and mourning daughter with grace and humor, so much so, that she is able to really knock the wind out of us when she sings “Telephone Wire.” Robert Petkoff is equally effective as Bruce. He is able to humanize what could come across as a tragic stereotype. But he finds so much heart with Bruce that we are devastated as we watch his sorrow take over him. As Small Alison, Allessandra Baldacchino is incredible. She is gifted beyond her years, and able to convey a mountain of feeling when she recognizes her own identity in a delivery woman in the song “Ring of Keys.”
This entire production is a stellar example of what Broadway should be doing more of. It’s a powerful story about love and identity that personalizes the experience so well, we become so enraptured in the simplicity of it, that the last line of the show has the power to take your breath away.
Based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Through April 1, 2017.
Regular Performances (February 23 – April 1):
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.;
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. No Monday performances.
Exceptions: Added 8 p.m. performance on Monday, March 27 and 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, March 30.
Ticket Prices: $25 – $125 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available online at CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office. Groups: (213) 972-7231. Deaf community: Information and charge, visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
At the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012