Theater Review: FUN HOME (San Diego Repertory Theatre at the Lyceum Stage)

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by Tony Frankel on September 17, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Wise and warm, funny and tender, this 100-minute family memory-play musical charts the twisted courses of a self-shaming gay father’s suicide and the coming out of his self-affirming lesbian daughter. Based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel, this 2015 Broadway one-act chamber musical, winner of 5 Tony Awards, is propelled by 14 passionate songs, some abstract and semi-spoken, by Jeanine Tesori with the all-telling book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

Graced by Sam Woodhouse’s extraordinary production for San Diego Rep — in intimate outing that easily bests the national tour and which frustratingly isn’t running forever — Fun Home balances the scales of unacknowledged love against what might have been. When a saving affection arrives too late, or not at all, the inquiry — where did so many good intentions go wrong? — is wrenching.

Warily stationed behind her illustrator’s desk, a very persuasive Amanda Naughton plays 43-year-old Alison. This tested dreamer is an often-helpless observer of her own quest for the treasures that hearts can hide (“It All Comes Back”).

Her remembrance centers on two periods that provide shifting timelines for Alison’s journey. The first is when she is 10: Small Alison (enchanting Taylor Coleman, alternating with Isabella Pruter), now 10, must navigate her father’s hypocritical desire to make her the perfect heterosexual lady, when her true desire is to literally fly her away from the Victorian showplace and the family funeral home that provides the show’s sardonic title. In a rare invasion of joy, she joins her delightful brothers John (Bobby Chiu, alternating with Jacob Farry) and Christian (Luke Renner, alternating with Hayden Crocker) in a pretend commercial for the mortuary: With Javier Velasco’s appropriate 70s boogieing, and charming young thespians who’ll steal your heart, “Come to the Fun Home” is one of the many magical moments at the Lyceum Theatre.

The second turning point comes when Medium Alison (a sweetly searching and gawky Claire Adams) goes to college and finds lust and life with a fellow co-ed, Joan (a contagiously confident Alexis Louise Young). She’s happy to discover she’s not asexual after all. Even better, she can adore another without regrets. You’ll be jealous you’re not Joan when Adams perfectly portrays puppy love in her infectiously joyous and high-spirited “Changing My Major.”

Meanwhile, pursuing his treacherous path to desire, her cruising, conflicted father Bruce (a daringly unsympathetic Jim Stanek), forced to see a therapist because he preys on boys, ignores his too-aware wife Helen (Bets Malone), collateral damage in a mistaken marriage (Malone resonates the pain of regret in a powerful “Days and Days”). Instead this very damaged secret-sharer romances a young yard man named Roy.

Conlan Ledwith physically embodies Bruce’s hired hand and other underage objects, but doesn’t have the necessary allure. While Ledwith is the only miscasting in the show, he shines in Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ inspired Partridge Family costumes during a riff called “Raincoat of Love,” which carries a mocking bite coming after the news that Bruce is seeing a court-ordered shrink (sadly, the only way he could leave the closet was, tragically, to molest minors).

Much of the musical chronicles the near-hits and mostly misses in this contorted father-daughter contretemps: Bruce’s invented assurances (“Maps”), his make-believe lullaby (“Pony Girl”), their awkward, late-coming pseudo-confessionals (“Telephone Wire”), and the refusal to honor the sincerity of Medium Alison’s sexual declaration of dependence. When Bruce ends his lies with his life (“Edges of the World”), Alison feels both guilt and reconciliation, certain that her queer raincoat of love will be mutual and public.

Fun Home has many hinges: before and after, if or when, then and now, and, above all, three Alisons who are both for and against a less-than-one Bruce. Our sympathies get fought over (and over), which only tells you how much truth-telling is at stake here. Woodhouse makes every moment matter, while Robert Meffe’s astounding musical direction triggers the novelistic texture of Kron’s supple lyrics and Tesori’s vaulting melodies. Watching this may not always be fun, but it sure feels like home.

photos by Daren Scott

Fun Home
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza
ends on September 30, 2018
for tickets, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Darlene September 22, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Really enjoyed! Thank you!!!


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