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Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

One more weekend to catch the 2015 Tony Award winner.

There's no written code that obliges a theater company to produce a cheerful season opener. If there is, SAPAC wants to hear none of it while it continues to beat its own drum, taking a cue from last year's acclaimed showing of NEXT TO NORMAL. This season commences with an equally daring salvo: FUN HOME, winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Based on Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same title, the musical owes its remarkable triumph to Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics). The creative tag team amplifies the impact of the cartoonist's coming-of-age recounting, which chronicles her self-discovery as a lesbian and examines her fraught relationship with a stern and elusive father.

Kron's book dispenses with the linear track and simulates a stream of consciousness not unlike Bechdel's presumed sketches. It begins with a middle-aged Alison working on a memoir in the present day, digging up family mementos and recalling central moments of her childhood under the strain of her fiercely demanding father, Bruce.

The family of five resides in a funeral home which Bruce maintains. He also buys and restores houses with a keen aesthetic eye. The narrative vacillates as one memory triggers another, but Alison the storyteller (the sublime Erin Anderson) manages to cobble a coherent spine through her detailed journal work.

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

The children are a certain highlight of the cast. Lila Poore plays "Small Allison," who is barely attuned to her nascent sexuality when she opts for boyish games, like playing "airplane" with Bruce and taking to the sky like Superman. She is curiously drawn to a butch delivery woman ("Ring of Keys"). She prefers to put on a pair of jeans when her dad insists on her wearing a pretty dress.

Soon after entering college, "Medium Alison" (a compelling portrayal by Samantha Beemer) encounters Joan (Hannah Turner) at her college's Gay Union and begins to identify as a lesbian. She struggles to reconcile the discovery with her parents back home but finds the courage to write a letter revealing her relationship with Joan.

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

A visit home from college reunites Alison with her family who finally meets Joan. It's Alison's opportunity to break the ice and prove her integrity as a gay woman. Bruce makes an attempt to welcome the reality, though writ large is the painful recognition of his own struggles.

Here lies a critical distinction between Middle Alison and Bruce. In spite of the initial tumult around her sexual awakening, Alison revels in her eventual admission, only to discover that her father has been harboring secrets as a homosexual. His enduring shame from illicit affairs, coupled with his inability to accept the pain caused by his gradual unmooring of ethics (sleeping with hired help and seducing underage students) leads him to a tragic decision to end his own life.

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

Bruce is a profoundly complex man, and what a gratifying occasion to witness Matthew Holter deliver his most dignified performance to date. An exquisite and well-known tenor, he's found an interpretive range independent of his vocal facility. Holter inhabits a troubled soul with a tacit compulsion that belies his astounding rage, displaying a nuance between the sympathetic patriarch and a restless man trapped in his self-made prison.

Holter's convincing manic decline finds an authentic counterbalance in Samantha Beemer's portrait of a young woman who grows confident by the day. Beemer is a talent with enormous potential who anchors a focused, young ensemble that completes the group of Bechdel siblings: Sylas Smith (Christian) and Sadie Aubry (John). Sean Hazen is a fine utilitarian player who shows a promising range in his multiple roles (Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby/Jeremy).

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

Last and certainly not least, Liz Cracchiolo plays Bruce's wife Helen, who spends the better part of the story as a reserved and understated second fiddle. Cracchiolo might have been left to her own devices in search of an arc, but lucky for us she has the tenacity to shape the necessary throughline. She doesn't say much, but when she does, eventually, the walls will shake from a piercing clarity that brooks no bullshit.

Which brings me to first-time director Tyler Wright, who should be commended for his honest effort to take the deep plunge. He knows his characters well and has done a respectable job with the play's most intimate moments, some of which could easily grate the skin without adequate guidance. FUN HOME is a lyrical piece that begs for sensitive treatment and we do think his tender leadership manifests throughout.

Technical Issues

Small peeve, I know, but big enough to notice. The living room coffee table is a literal construction, as opposed to the nondescript boxes utilized in universally minimal settings. Realistic pieces have memory, so to speak, so when a genuine piece of furniture is moved to create the illusion of a car seat we are made to stretch a reality beyond our comfort zone.

Moreover, it behooves a director to clarify the final tableau in a manner that justifies textual intent. If we are to understand, middle-aged Alison has come to a place of synthesis; compositionally, it makes more sense to place her in the middle of the final number, locking hands with Small and Middle Alisons, rather than Small Alison being the focal point.

Review: SAPAC Opens New Season With FUN HOME

Lovely music direction by Marie Sierra, but the band is often louder than the singers (and the reed instruments are flat). Tempo could use a bump on some songs. Lighting is smooth but needs a little less intensity on Bruce's chair when he's not sitting on it. (Mike Muirhead's set design suggests a minimalist elegance that quietly drives the point home.)

If I sound like a director dishing out rehearsal notes, it's because it's a wonderful production that can only get better with the run.

FUN HOME plays one more weekend at Scoundrel and Scamp, 738 N 5th Ave (on the corner for University and 5th)

Photo Credit: Blake Adam

Remaining show times:

Friday August 12th, 7pm

Saturday August 13th, 2pm and 7pm

Sunday August 14th, 2pm

General Admission, reserved seating: $32.50

Students/Teachers/Military, reserved seating: $25.00

For tickets and more info, call 401-594-4895 or visit

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From This Author - Robert Encila-Celdran

Born and raised in the Philippines, Robert Encila-Celdran resides in Tucson, Arizona where he works as a full-time theatre educator. A Fine Arts scholar from the University of Arizona, he f... (read more about this author)


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