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Theater Review: “Fun Home"

“Fun Home” plays through September 30, 2018, at San Diego Repertory Theatre
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

“My father is just like me,” says Alison (Amanda Naughton) in Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesoro’s “Fun Home.” She immediately follows that with “My father is nothing like me.”s

It turns out that both – and neither – are true. “Fun Home,” the five Tony-winning musical (with book and lyrics by Kron and music by Tesoro), is an autobiographical musical based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir about family life in small-town Pennsylvania where she grew up, told from her vantage point – that of a self-described “lesbian cartoonist.” The show is a small (95--minute) wonder, and nothing like any musical you’ve ever seen.

Sam Woodhouse directs this moving, funny and altogether riveting show through Sept. 30 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

This family seems – and is -- charmingly eccentric. Head of household Bruce (Jim Stanek) runs the Bechdel funeral home (hence the title) when he’s not restoring a house, buying antiques or teaching high school English.

But aside from what he does, Bruce tries to deny what he is – a closeted gay – and the adult Alison is trying to understand why he chose that self-destructive path that later led to suicide. Meanwhile, mom Helen (local favorite Bets Malone) tries to deal as best she can with her husband’s split attention.

This may not seem a likely plot for a musical, but Kron and Tesoro intertwine music and drama so seamlessly that it comes off as utterly natural. No striding to the footlights, planting feet and Singing A Song here. Instead, the notes grow out of and somehow include the action, accompanied by the fine seven-member onstage band led by Robert Meffe.

The Bechdels seem like an average family, with three kids (two boys and a girl). Like kids everywhere, they (Bobby Chiu, Luke Renner, and Taylor Coleman) are likely to climb into an empty casket one day and invent a hilarious “commercial” for the Fun Home (amusingly choreographed by Javier Velasco) the next.

But because it is Alison trying to piece together and make sense of her memories, three Alisons are represented: the aforementioned adult at age 43, 10-year-old Small Alison (Taylor Coleman the night I saw the show) and 19-year-old Oberlin College student Medium Alison (Claire Adams). The Alisons share a lovely leitmotif played by reeds and strings as she recalls the events that have shaped all their lives.

Young Coleman gets the charming number “Ring of Keys,” in which the 10-year-old rhapsodizes about a butch delivery woman whose appearance gives hints of who she wants to be. She delivers it like a pro.

But it’s Adams’ college student Medium Alison who really charms when she meets Gay Union member Joan (Alexis Louise Young) at Oberlin College, falls mightily in love, and sings the giddy paean “Changing My Major to Joan” after their first sexual encounter.

Naughton (a veteran of the “Fun Home” tour) plays the adult Alison with humor and a fine, strong voice.

Stanek (a veteran of the Broadway production) offers a committed, tortured performance as the hugely unhappy Bruce. 

Malone’s agonized Helen tries to hide her heartache, but it shows, especially in the taut “Days and Days” (“No one clocks the day you disappear”).

Chiu, Renner, and Coleman (spelled on some nights by Isabella Pruter) are excellent as the Bechdel children.

Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes evoke the ’70s and ’80s, and Sean Fanning’s set allows for quick and easy scene changes.

“Fun Home” gives us not just joy and heartbreak, but the complexity of life, served up with a brilliant 95-minute script and perfectly integrated score. The question at hand is this: How long can we put up with a life that doesn’t fit us?

Don’t miss this fine production. But hurry: it closes next week.

The details

“Fun Home” plays through September 30, 2018, at San Diego Repertory Theatre

79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org