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Review: FUN HOME at Out Of The Box Theatre Company

Review: FUN HOME at Out Of The Box Theatre Company
Photos by David Bazemore

Fun Home is a quiet, wrenching story of broken people whose hope for redemption has left the building. Director Samantha Eve of Out of the Box Theatre Company has outdone herself with this complex, devastating piece of work. It's a show worth fighting for, and Eve pushed hard for the rights, confident that this story was important enough to be told in communities beyond the big cities on the Broadway tour circuit. Though the overt narrative gives an illustration of how the social alienation of queer culture has ruined many good people (and affected their families in tragic ways), the real message of this show is about identity of every kind and the importance of being seen. The talented cast of local performers brings a sense of torrid suffocation to the stage that shows the damaging effects of a clandestine life. Out of the Box's Fun Home is more than a story of one woman leaning into her queer identity while her father crumbles under the weight of hiding his--it's about familial legacy and the unsettling loss of innocence that occurs when you realize your parents are only human.

Review: FUN HOME at Out Of The Box Theatre Company
Photo by David Bazemore

Written by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, the first all-female team to win Tony Awards for best book and best original score, Fun Home burst onto the scene in 2013. The show is based on the graphic memoir by acclaimed cartoonist Alison Bechdel. If you don't know her, look her up--her ideas are sparking needed conversations across the various brands of feminism and beyond. Fun Home is a memory musical in which 43-year old Alison (Aileen Marie Scott) disseminates, for what is obviously not the first (nor the 100th) time the series of events that led to her blossoming queer identity and her father's self-destruction. Alison draws and writes her memoir while remembering key moments of her childhood and young adulthood, exploring how her tenuous family dynamic molded her limited emotional availability for self-acceptance. "Now I'm the one who's 43 and lost," she says to the ghost of her father as she draws, beseeching answers from the long-gone role model of her youth.

The play follows young Alison (played by Ember Reiter and Hattie Ugoretz) as she navigates childhood with a father, Bruce (Rob Grayson), who undulates between disinterest in his children and fixated attention on Alison's artistic and academic potential. Both Reiter and Ugoretz play young Alison with an impressive sense of confusion and burgeoning cynicism caught in the midst of the relationship between her moody father and passively furious mother, Helen (Deborah Bertling). The musical alternates between young Alison at home with her parents and siblings, and freshman-in-college-aged Alison (Page Mobley) coming to terms with being a lesbian. Each version of Alison offers complementary emotionality that feeds into the complexity of adult Alison's angst.

Review: FUN HOME at Out Of The Box Theatre Company
Photo by David Bazemore

The "Fun Home" of the title refers to the funeral home the family runs to fund Bruce's obsession with historic home restoration. The Bechdels live in a museum; not only does Bruce, with a keen eye for treasures, adorn the home with antique oddities, the house also serves as setting for the slow emotional demise of the adults living within the pristine walls. While we rejoice to see Alison thrive in the acceptance of her sexuality, we also watch helplessly as Bruce cements himself into his own mausoleum. He desperately seeks the kind of romance that his wife cannot provide; and Helen tersely pushes his dangerous indiscretions under the ornate rugs and seethes in resentment at the man who cannot love her in the way she deserves. Zachary Thompson, who plays the various young men Bruce is involved with, brings a dangerous chemistry to the stage with Grayson, who's refined exterior hides the ferality of a man living caged. The Bechdel motto is: "chaos never happens if it's never seen," but through adult Alison's wiser point of view, all we see is the anarchy of a home with miserable adults grasping the threads of an unraveling life together for reasons they don't understand.

Fun Home is modern and dark, with intricate music and dialogue that overlaps in frenzied interactions. It's a complicated story beautifully told, and Out of the Box has brought Santa Barbara an important piece of literature that asks questions about mental heath and the mercilessness and prejudice of society. It's a story of ghosts, a relatable and melancholy emotional haunting told in subtle poetry.

Out of the Box Theatre Company presents:


directed by Samantha Eve

Friday, April 12-Sunday, April 14
Center Stage Theater

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