BWW Review: FUN HOME at White Plains Performing Arts Center
"Fun Home" the Tony-winning musical, based on Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel, is a serious show about a serious topic, showing how members of a dysfunctional family come to terms - sort of - with their sexuality, and their place in the world. Spoiler: some of them deal with it better than others.
The groundbreaking show packs an enormous emotional wallop as 43-year-old Alison (Lauren Cohn) re-examines her childhood in Bucks County Pennsylvania in the 1970s as she struggles to complete an autobiographical graphic novel. In a series of telling vignettes, we see Alison at two times in her early life, her childhood at age 10 and her freshman year at Oberlin College. As we watch her struggle to understand her feelings, 43-year-old Alison moves about the action, watching and commenting on her two younger selves as her past comes to life, often in unpleasant fashion.
"Fun home" is the name the father, Bruce, has given the family business: a funeral parlor. As Bruce, Robert Cuccioli is simply sensational, gently revealing Bruce's inner confusion and anger as it manifests itself in a vast array of ways: working as a funeral director and a high school English teacher and a classic home renovator - all the while neglecting his primary roles as father and husband. His relationship with Alison is at the core of the story, a complex interaction between the 10-year-old tomboy, who yearns to wear dungarees and cut her hair in a crew cut while Bruce insists that she wear dresses and a beret in her hair.
As the story passes back and forth in time, the familial dysfunction deepens and the conflict grows. The three Alisons are spritely brought to life by three equally superb actresses, Serena Parrish, Megan O'Callahan and Lauren Cohn - one better than the next. Across the broad, WPPAC has assembled a cast worthy of any Broadway production.
Alison comes out as a lesbian just months before her dangerously erratic father, whom we discover is a closeted gay man himself, takes his own life in horrific fashion.
Bruce is an extremely complex and dark character requiring an actor of great depth and capable of showing hidden glimpses of Bruce's humanity beneath his narcissism, preening and self-love/hate. Cuccioli was more than up to the task, delivering a supremely nuanced performance.
Bruce make's little effort to hide his attraction to young men, an issue that manages to remain unspoken during his long marriage to the suffering Helen, played by Rita Harvey with almost impossible grace. Helen sings the one really traditional number in the show but it almost feels out of place - until she closes by admonishing her daughter never to come back.
But it is the juxtaposition of Bruce's miserable closeted existence against Alison's revelatory embrace of her sexuality that's the real genius of the show. Alison's awakening is two-fold and emerges in two fantastic musical sequences: first during her early days in college "medium Alison" (Megan O'Callahan) come to understand who she is when she finds herself drawn to a classmate, Joan (Jessica Mosher). After her first lesbian experience, Alison displays the overwhelming excitement of first love in a marvelous number "Changing My Major to Joan."
But the musical and dramatic highlight of the evening is young Alison's early epiphany, "Ring of Keys". While at a diner with her father, she is completely taken by the sight of a butch delivery woman who is unlike anyone she has ever seen before. Immediately, young Alison is captivated by her "swagger" and her short hair, dungarees and lace-up boots. Alison makes the sad observation that will inform the rest of her life: "Am I the only one here who thinks your beautiful?" It is a moment of absolutely shattering beauty and stunningly brilliant theatricality.
Director Amy Griffin has crafted a small masterpiece. She deftly balances the undeniably unappealing aspects of the show's characters and the frustratingly sad aspects of the show's plot against the miracle of self-discovery, against all odds, and a glimpse of hope for a better future for Alison.
"Fun Home" is a difficult but important show that requires a first-rate cast and first-rate direction to succeed, and the WPPAC's production is just that. Everything about the show is first rate, acting, direction, sets, lighting all top notch. Kudos to the entire creative team: scenic designers Christopher and Justin Swader, lighting designer Jamie Roderick, costume designer Molly Seidel, sound designer Emma Wilk, choreography by Lexie Fennell Frare and musical direction by Stephen Ferri. It is certainly one of the best productions they (WPPAC) have ever mounted.
- Peter Danish
FUN HOME at WPPAC runs Oct 12th - 28th
For more info visit: http://wppac.com/