By Karen Isaacs
Fun Home won the Tony for best musical in 2015. The Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) is one of the first regional theaters to be given the rights to produce the show. The resulting production that runs through May 6 is excellent. Once again, artistic director Kevin Connor has done an excellent job both casting and directing this show.
In fact, the small stage with performers just feet from you, adds to the emotional impact of this show about a father, a daughter and family where secrets are often buried well below the surface.
The musical is based on a graphic novel of the same by Alison Bechdel that recounts stories from her childhood and her discovery of both herself and family secrets.
We see various episodes in the life of this typical American family – which was anything but typical. The adult Alison narrates and comments while we see “small Alison” as a child of about 8 or 10 and “Middle Alison” as a freshman in college.
The Dad, well played by Greg Roderick, is a high school English teacher who has restored their home to historic perfection and also runs the family business, a funeral home which in the family is referred to as “Fun Home.” But he is a demanding parent who seems to easily fly off the handle if things aren’t “perfect” or done his way. Quickly you sense that the relationship with his wife strained. So we see various episodes – the Dad (Bruce) showing the house proudly to a woman from the Historic Society, shaming “Small Alison” into wearing a dress to a party, berating “Middle Alison” for her literary opinions and more.
The story is told in a non-chronological fashion so we skip around in time; this sometimes makes it difficult to know exactly when something occurs. It seems to begin in 1975 or 76 and ends before 1990.
But though we know the ending at the start, we also begin to get many hints of how it all came about. Alison is writing the novel to try to understand both herself and her father.
In college “Middle Alison” realizes that she is a lesbian, and always has been. At the same time, Bruce’s life is unraveling; his is gay and has acted upon many times sometimes with boys under the age of consent.
Yet, while at times Fun Home can be confusing, it is also moving. Jeanine Tesorii who wrote the music and Lisa Kron who wrote the book and lyrics have created characters that you care about and that you can recognize.
The three actors playing Alison at different ages are all terrific: Caitlyn Kops as “Small Alison,” Megan O’Callaghan as “Medium Alison” and Amy Griffin as Alison, who also serves as the narrator.
Greg Roderick shows us all of the dimension of Bruce, the father. Raissa Katona Bennett has the less developed role of the mother, Helen. She handles the contradictions in the character well. The role is less central to the story and depends more on non-verbal than lines. Anthony Crouchelli plays a variety of young men who seem almost interchangeable. Abby Root plays “Middle Alison’s” girlfriend.
The program does not list the individual songs. Several stand out despite that. The young Alison and her brothers do a terrific mock TV commercial for the funeral home, “Come to the Fun Home.” Bruce’s final song, “Edges of the World” is also moving. “Ring of Keys” is also excellent—sung by both Alison and “Small Alison” it talks about seeing a female delivery driver at a diner and admiring her.
Director O’Connor has done an excellent job. While the small thrust stage bring intimacy, it also forces more than half the audience to crane their necks to see some of the playing areas. Alison’s drawing table is closest to the audience. But at the back of the stage the far right is the funeral home set and on the far left an area that represents several areas, including “Middle Alison’s” dorm room, a NYC hotel room and more. For those siting on the sides, these can be hard to always see and I’m sure that at times some of the people at the front of the stage may be blocked by Alison at her drawing table.
But that is small prices to pay for the emotional impact that the intimate theater gives to this space. Those who may be uncomfortable with this type of non-traditional family may be jarred by this story.
But the rest of us, will come away with a sense of loss. The price that many paid because our society could not accept the reality of sexuality.
For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.