Fun Home, Music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Directed by Sam Gold. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The Cast of Fun Home
". . .ultimately a reasonable amount - what does that mean?"
Kate Shindle as Alison
What is a reasonable amount of personal angst? What's the result of experiencing it? There is the question of Fun Home, the musical that won five 2015 Tony Awards. Alison, the character, has loved her father unconditionally her whole life but, it turns out, she never reallyhas known him. A man of many moods he has hidden from her and her siblings, and even from his wife, dark secrets about himself that ultimately destroy him. Before that point, however, he has shared with his daughter a few of the truths he has hidden away his entire life. In college she has discovered her own personal identity: she is gay, a lesbian, and she is proud of it. When she brings her lover home her father is easily accepting; her mother is not so much. It is at that family gathering that Bruce, her father, reveals some of the truths that he has kept from her.
Kate Shindle is the adult Alison, looking back at her personal history. Abby Corrigan is her teenage, college-kid self and Carly Gold is the child Alison. Watching these three play Alison at different stages of her life is a fascinating theatrical experience. All three actresses bring incredible reality to the part. It's unusual to watch the growth of a character embodied in three simultaneous incarnations and even more unusual to watch one of them watch the other two with a distanced eye, capable of judging moments in her own life as it plays out before her. Shindle is perfect in this role, never cute or disturbing in any way. She plays the passive eye while exposing her own adult passions quietly, normally. She sings incredibly and handles the sexuality of Alison with equal pleasure.
As Bruce, her father, Robert Petkoff is a delight, changing emotional states as quickly and easily as he changes positions on the stage. Also a lovely singer, he acts a man whose emotional and physical conflicts hold center stage for himself and everyone else in the cast. Bruce, father of three, husband of one, also has a string of lovers who appear and therein lies the conflict that enthralls and confuses his daughter. She knows most of the love-objects but doesn't understand the relationships until it is too late to help the father she adores and who adores her.
Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, Carly Gold (all as Alison)
Bruce's lovers, Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby, Jeremy are played by Robert Hager. Each one is well defined and different from the others, but they all share one thing: they are men who are men and nothing less. Hager brings a strength to these roles that help us understand what is most special about Bruce, an intelligent and obsessive human being who can only exist when he is enthralled with something, whether that is his work, his daughter, or his attachments to other strong men. Petkoff and Hager together bring the picture Alison is photographing with her mind into clearer focus.
Gold is terrific and Corrigan does troubled youth to perfection. As the earlier editions of the heroine they help bring a similar tightening image of the woman who shares center stage with her father. Two other children, Luké Barbato Smith and Henry Boshart nicely flesh out the family situation. Joan, college Alison's girlfriend, is played very well by Victoria Janicki. Her scene at Alison's home is especially well played as she is charmed by Bruce and awkwardly welcomed by Helen, Bruce's wife and Alison's mother.
Helen is played by the incredible Susan Moniz who comes closest in this company to stopping the show cold with her number late in the ninety-one minute one-act show. Though the play is almost through-composed there are some very clear "numbers" and Helen's angry life-lament is a staggering example of the fine musical writing that enhances this play. Moniz rips hearts out of bodies with her rendition of the song and in the only actual instance of emotional purposing almost brings tears to the eyes of the audience. No matter how good Shindle, Petkoff, Hager and Corrigan have been, for the length of that number there is no one else on stage except Susan Moniz.
The production is elaborate and sets its scenes perfectly. David Zinn is responsible for that and for the costumes as well. Ben Stanton's lighting works wonders for placement and intention. Kai Harada's sound design keeps focus easy and makes listening a pleasure. Micah Young keeps his musicians in line and keeps the levels appropriate for every moment.
Sam Gold has done a very good job presenting this story and focusing our attention. I think it is his best work since the play John at Signature Theatre in New York City.
This national tour company would be hard to beat, I think. They all feel so perfectly right for their roles. The overall effect of Fun Home is a simple one: Home is never really fun, but it is home, and that's fun all by itself.
Fun Home runs at Proctors Theatre at 432 State Street, Schenectady, New York through November 5. For information and tickets go to www.proctors.org or call 518-346-6204.