Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his sonnet Silence of the duality of the human experience: the physical and the non-physical conditions. It is rather fitting to connect Poe to the undercurrent story in “Fun Home,” playing at Baltimore’s Center Stage. This performance is a true drama musical that focuses on very serious and heavy life topics in the cauldron of memories of Alison Bechdel, portrayed in three chronologically specific eras ranging from the 1970s to recent times: the “present” (Lauren Darrell), who generally narrates the story, her childhood (Molly Lyons), and her early college days (Andrea Prestinario).
It is a rich story filled with drama and moving components, ingeniously
adapted for the stage.
The Bechdel family home in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, which was also a funeral home, is ground zero for the uprooting of family serenity. The subjectivity of a “normal family” traverses traditional stage dialogue and creates a live-action pulse of unraveling perspectives in Alison’s reality. Her complicated relationship with her father only compounds the difficulty of bridging their hidden worlds and the open arena of the family sphere.
I find this story centers on labored partitions and theatrical mending, with the phantoms of truth sauntering through the halls of a home where children played hide-and-go-seek in coffins. But it dares to reconcile the insolvency experienced in the ripples of self-realization. At its core, this musical is about Alison Bechdel’s coming of age and coming to terms with her father’s duplicity, and acceptance of who she truly is deep inside. Who she loved and why she loved them was a tumultuous struggle, understanding the time period and the level of social acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the 1970s and 1980s.
It is a raw glimpse into Alison ’s reflective theorems and is presented as such. The realism of the dichotomy displayed in this performance is largely in part to casting a very talented ensemble of actors –who were immensely entertaining and magnificent in their portrayals of the characters. I thought Molly Lyons, who played the child version of Alison, demonstrated a mastery of the stage well beyond her years, and quite frankly stole the show. Jeffrey Denman, who played Alison’s father, duplicated the quintessential Dad of the 70s and creepy English teacher with destabilizing mannerisms and verbose contradictions. All of the actors emphatically color the truisms in the details with flawless diction and fluid movements.
“Fun Home” is a musical adaptation of Bechdel’s memoir, which blends flashy and coy musical numbers. Using music and song to elevate and descend with the oscillating emotions prevalent throughout further enhances the excitement and sorrow Alison expresses in her recollections. Examples of this are highlighted in songs such as “Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue,” which plays like a ballad of morose neatness using such lines as “Like chaos never happens if it’s never seen,” and the disco feeling “Raincoat of Love” make for wildly entertaining fodder while simultaneously dissecting the slow precipice of a family coming undone. I was especially moved by the number “Days and Days,” sung by Alison’s mother (Michelle Dawson) which claws at the exposed nerves of a broken hearted wife who has to face the truth about her husband and daughter. It is a deeply wrenching number with lyrics like “And now my life is shattered and laid bare.”
Baltimore Center Stage is truly a theatre gem. There is plenty of credit that needs to be given in this production of “Fun Home.” Director Hana Sharif and music director Evan Rees have orchestrated an unequivocally superb performance with actors demonstrating amazing chemistry and having first rate musical compositions. The costumes gave the performers authentic attire, which were marvelously stitched by Karen Perry. The abundance of fun dance moves are credited to choreographers Jaclyn Miller and Sara Bruner. Scenic designer Scott Bradley brought the realistic stage to life and deserves a good deal of praise. Nice work.
Overall, I give “Fun Home” an A-. It is a rich story filled with drama and moving components,
This is a well-written story. A story that makes no attempt to overly romanticize Alison Bechdel’s embrace of herself, her identity or the truth about her father. It is what theatre is meant to be.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes and language.
“Fun Home” is playing now through February 24, 2019 at Baltimore Center Stage. For more information and tickets, visit their website by clicking here.