BWW Review: FUN HOME at The Wilbury Theatre Group
The Wilbury Theatre Group is closing out their 2018-2019 main series season with FUN HOME, the musical based on the highly acclaimed 2006 graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Fun Home, directed here by Josh Short, deals with both Bechdel's coming of age, as well as her coming out, but is as much her entire family's story than just hers alone.
Bechdel is portrayed throughout the show at three different stages in her life - as childhood Small Alison (Paige Barlow), college aged Medium Alison (Shannon Hartman), and as her adult self. Adult Alison (Rachael Warren), now a graphic artist looking back on her life to illustrate it, recalls a pastiche of scenes from her younger years. She is often around the periphery of the action, drawing and sometimes commentating on the action. Each Alison has their chance to shine: Barlow does a fantastic job with the song about one of Bechdel's earliest eye-opening moments as a youngster, "Ring of Keys," while Hartman captures the initial uncertainty about her sexuality and then her decision to embrace that part of herself during the song "Changing My Major." As mentioned, Warren as adult Bechdel is around during many of the scenes where she is not the focal point, but her reactions to what is unfolding on-stage are delightful to watch. Of course, Warren, no stranger to the Rhode Island theatre scene, also has an amazing voice during numbers such as "Maps" and "Telephone Wire."
Jason Loete is unforgettable as Bruce Bechdel, Alison's closeted gay father, who we are told walked in front of a truck just months after she comes out to her parents. He spends his life trying to make things look beautiful, and trying to build the "regular" life that society expected of him, though as we learn, his ability to suppress his natural proclivities was never something he did very well, leading to dalliances with much younger men (all portrayed here by Luis Minaya). Loete is perfect at portraying a man who tries to do what he thinks is right despite moments of volatility, struggling mightily with his decisions. As Alison's mother, Helen, Jennifer Mischley has a heartbreaking turn late in the show, "Days and Days," in which she describes to Medium Alison how difficult life has been with her father.
Monica Shinn's multi-level set uses both sides of the space, with different parts of the set for specific places, such as adult Alison's writing studio and Medium Alison's college bedroom. Lighting effects by Andy Russ are also utilized well throughout the show, with some specific highlights being the use of an overhead projector as Alison describes drawing a map, with what she illustrates becoming part of the stage and in the portrayal her father's untimely death.
Bechdel's graphic novel has the subtitle "A Family Tragicomic" and that aptly describes the musical as well. At turns funny, heartfelt, and heartbreaking, Wilbury's production of Fun Home is one worth visiting. Fun Home will be presented through June 16th at their space in 40 Sonoma Court, Providence RI. Tickets are $15-38. For a complete performance schedule and ticket information, call 401.400.7100 or visit their website at thewilburygroup.org/fun-home.