BWW Review: Phoenix Theatre Presents FUN HOME ~ Ayers, Ferracane, and Wolf Shine

BWW Review: Phoenix Theatre Presents FUN HOME ~ Ayers, Ferracane, and Wolf Shine

When Alison Bechdel received the MacArthur Genius Award in 2014, she was acknowledged for her pioneering work as a cartoonist and graphic memoirist, "exploring the complexities of familial relationships in multilayered works that use the interplay of word and image to weave sophisticated narratives." In addition to being honored for her 25-year comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, particular mention was made of her 2006 graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.

That novel, a poignant memoir of Bechdel's childhood, her relationship with her father, and her sexual awakening as a lesbian was faithfully adapted, with equal levels of precision and depth by Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) into FUN HOME, a five-time Tony Award winner, including Best Musical (2015).

Its rendering in Phoenix Theatre's current production, directed with distinctive acuity and sensitivity by Robert Kolby Harper, is all of perfect, bound together by a cast, each of whom, from children to adults, delivers distinctive and memorable performances.

Throughout the series of vignettes, Alison (Becca Ayers) steers and weaves her drafting table across the stage as if it were a planchette on a ouija board, drawing out the seminal pages of her life, observing its formative moments as they are portrayed by her childhood self (Olivia Fearey, an 11-year-old, delivering a knockout and remarkably sustained performance as Young Alison) and her college self, Medium Alison (an effusive and exhilarating Kaitlyn Russell), in each instance, unfolding discoveries about her true self and, too, about unspoken family truths.

The deepest and darkest of these truths abides in the relationship with her father, Bruce (Rusty Ferracane, more brilliant and compelling than I have ever seen him), an imperfect perfectionist who is into restoring his immaculate home; managing a funeral home, whimsically if not ironically dubbed the fun home by his children, Christian (Ian Gray), John (Griffin Raia), and Young Alison (Fearey); and leading a life of deception that does not go unnoticed by his dutiful wife Helen (Elyse Wolf, delivering a profoundly moving portrayal, highlighted by her emotion-laden Days and Days) but is instead satisfied by younger men (Drake Sherman).

The most glorious of the truths is realized when Medium Alison (Russell), meets Joan (Lauren McKay), her college soulmate, sheds her confusion, and celebrates her coming out (Changing My Major).

Returning, to the title of Bechdel's novel, we are reminded that Alison's vignettes define a tragicomic family life. Tragedy and comedy, two sides of the same coin, aligning to define one's life. This duality is what makes this play so consequential ~ not solely because it features a lesbian as its central character but also because it is a story, highly relatable, that transcends one family's experience and speaks to the human impulses in all of us to unravel the formative forces that define us and to recognize the walls that we had to break through to become who we are.

The flow of Alison's journey arcs into a culminating performance (Flying Away) that brings all the threads of her life together and, with due respect, unifies the audience in a well-deserved standing ovation.

FUN HOME, in every respect a must-see, runs through December 2nd in the Hormel Theatre at Phoenix Theatre.

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

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From This Author Herbert Paine

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