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BWW Review: FUN HOME at Omaha Community Playhouse is Artistry


BWW Review: FUN HOME at Omaha Community Playhouse is Artistry

Omaha Community Playhouse leads off their 2018-2019 season with an autobiography turned musical that reads on many levels. Enjoy the production as a Grammy nominated musical, or dig deep to find a rich reservoir of meaning in this Pulitzer Prize nominated graphic novel. I love FUN HOME for so many reasons!

In 2015 the brilliant minds of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (who also wrote the music for SHREK THE MUSICAL coming to the Playhouse in September) brought Alison Bechdel's graphic novel to Broadway. The story is an exploration of Bechdel's relationship with her parents, uncovering their secrets, and her own self discovery. Possibly the first musical with a lesbian lead role, FUN HOME won five Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book. Add these to the before-mentioned Grammy and Pulitzer Prize nominations and you'll see that this is an all around winner before it even hits the Omaha stage.

Alison Bechdel (Angie Heim) is a 43 year old who examines her memories through cartoons and captions. She is normally found with sketch pad in hand observing manifestations of those memories. She watches her younger selves, Small Alison (Sasha Deneberg) and Medium Alison (Analisa Peyton), recreating her life in small town Pennsylvania with her funeral director dad Bruce (Michael Trutna), stoic mom Helen (Jennifer Gilg), and brothers Christian (Ryan Laughlin) and John (Tyson Bentley.) The Bechdels live in a Victorian home kept impeccably dusted and polished. Bruce presents an outwardly perfect exterior even threatening to whale Small Alison if she doesn't wear a barrette to keep her hair out of her eyes. But it's not hair in her eyes that is preventing Alison from seeing who her dad is.

The Bechdels have secrets. Bruce has affairs with young men, some of them his English students. Helen knows more than she's telling. Alison knows she is different from the time she is small and smitten with a delivery woman in "Ring of Keys." Medium Alison goes off to Oberlin College and discovers girls rather than boys. She resists, but falls for the magnetic Joan (Julia Ervin) at the Gay Student Union. She's ready to tell her secret, but needs her parents to listen.

The telling isn't easy. Unable to begin saying what she wants to her father as they take a drive, she sets one deadline after another "at the light, at the light, at the light." That light never comes. Instead, her dad's life ends when he steps into an oncoming truck's headlights. Alison blames herself, saying, "I never realized that my beginning would be your end."

The story is all there. There are no surprises to be revealed as Alison tells all at the beginning, "I leapt out of the closet and four months later, my father killed himself by stepping in front of a truck." Instead, there are layers of meaning and richness of metaphor and balance. It begins with Small Alison beseeching her father to play airplane where her body is suspended above his supine one. It ends with Adult Alison freeing herself from blame for his death, saying, "Every so often there was a rare moment of perfect balance when I soared above him."

Bechdel subtitles her work, "A Family Tragicomedy." Not all is tragedy in the funeral home. There are moments of light hearted comedy. Small Alison renames the funeral home the "Fun Home." She and her brothers make fun where there is none. In one of the most fun numbers of the show, Denenberg, Laughlin and Bentley hide in a coffin in the funeral parlor and pop out when the grieving customer leaves, letting loose a rambunctious musical commercial, "Come to the Fun Home," extolling the virtues of their funeral services. Denenberg is spunky and strong willed, a perfect combination for the child who grows up to become an independent cartoonist not confined to the rules of conventional art. The three child actors, Denenberg, Laughlin, and Bentley are bright stars.

Analisa Peyton's vocal ability and sense of comedic timing in "Changing My Major to Joan" euphorically express her freedom, making a traumatic life event a celebration. The song mixes clever lyrics with catchy melody.

Josh Peyton, who deftly plays four very different characters, leads the cast in a delightful song and dance in "Raincoat of Love," which is Small Alison's vision of normal family life resembling a cheesy episode of "The Partridge Family."

These sporadic happy moments counterbalance the recurring heartbreak.

Bruce declares more than once that he can "still break a heart or two." He does, but not in the romantic way he intends. Adult Alison and Helen also break a heart or two. It takes accomplished acting and singing to convey the passion and hurt of the music and lyrics. Trutna, Heim and Gilg pull it off.

Trutna breaks our hearts with his wrenching "Edges of the World" where all is crumbling and ruin. Gilg breaks our hearts voicing her disappointment and her longing for something better for her daughter in "Days and Days." And Heim brings tears with "Telephone Wire," the perfect metaphor for Alison's inability to communicate with her dad.

Nothing is perfect, but this show is close. The scenic design and all important lighting by Jim Othuse, the choreography by Courtney Stein, costumes by Amanda's all spare enough to accentuate the interaction of the characters without drawing attention to itself. Jennifer Novak Haar directs a beautiful orchestra adding richness to the vocals. The theatre is an intimate space, drawing the audience close.

Director Roxanne Wach, assisted by Emily Mokrycki, guide an exceptional cast who tells this complex story in the best way possible- through powerful performance that will not leave you untouched. It is artistry.

Caption: Everyone wants a fun home.

Caption: No one has a perfect life.

Caption: We all need that little barrette to keep the hair out of our eyes.

Photo Credits: Colin Conces

Sasha Denenberg (Small Alison), Angie Heim (Adult Alison), Analisa Peyton (Medium Alison)

Caption: I am Analisa Peyton's mom and Josh's mother-in-law, and I couldn't be more proud! (Draw your own maps.)

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