Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Fun Home

Santa Fe Playhouse
Review by Carla Cafolla

Also see Carla's review of Love's Labour's Lost

Charlotte Carter and MJ Sea
Photo by Lynn Roylance
My dad and I both grew up
In the same, small Pennsylvania town
And he was gay, and I was gay
And he killed himself
And I...
Became a lesbian cartoonist

Loss of innocence accompanies the initial awareness of your parents as autonomous adults. The realization they, like you, have a past brimming with demons and scars is an illuminating and irreversible journey. Fun Home is one woman's musical memoir as she searches to understand herself, her family, and her father's suicide; we accompany Alison as she wanders through her memories, exposing with vulnerable candor her personal expedition via a succession of non-linear, rotating, and entwining vignettes.

Fun Home is a musical adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir. It is a wholly original narrative arc told from Bechdel's perspective, and, as she works on creating her autobiographical graphic novel on stage, her recollections come to life around her.

The original Broadway production of Fun Home opened in April 2015. Nominated for twelve 2015 Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical, and making Kron and Tesori the first all-female songwriting team to win a Tony Award for Best Original Score, it was also the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist.

Directed by Vaughn Irving, Fun Home, playing for a limited time at the Santa Fe Playhouse, already sold out its first weekend. This is a fantastic play, with a fantastic cast and fantastic musicians. The stars aligned for this one, and if you want to see this beautiful story, don't wait too long. Or at all. Seriously. The usual theatregoing demographic has been bolstered by a huge increase in younger audience members who very vocally showed their enthusiasm the night I attended. I'll bet this pattern will continue.

Through a trifecta of Alisons, we relive her childhood (small Alison), her college days (medium Alison), and her present (adult Alison), beginning with our welcome to the Bechdel family home on Maple Drive where small Alison skips into the living room looking for her dad to play with her. We see her joy when he does, followed later by the stinging hurt of rejection. Charlotte Carter is a delight as small Alison. Through her and Alison's brothers, we relive their somewhat bizarre childhood of racing around and playacting truly hilarious make-believe TV advertisements for the family's real Bechdel Funeral Home. There are hints unseen to the child that all is not as it seems; her father's insistence she dress in girls clothes to attend a party, and his warning of punishment if she forgets to wear her hair barrette again, send warning bells to us, and a flash of realization to adult Alison. Not only is Carter's "Ring of Keys" performance as she almost recognizes her future-self when she sees a "butch" delivery woman pitch perfect with impeccable timing, but her ability to communicate her as yet undefined feelings through her inability to verbalize them, is phenomenal.

Adult Alison (MJ Sea), is outstanding. As she roams through her many memories, sometimes with a sketchbook, other times with a notebook, she is firmly in the present, looking back on her life's determinative moments. Her memories are also in the present—they live in their present, with no knowledge of their recollected status. Every scene, every action moves forward, always forward. Almost always onstage, Adult Alison is a powerhouse as she sees, sometimes with embarrassment, sometimes with amusement, sadness or whimsy, but always with increasing clarity, how she became who she is. Sea's very fine voice is beautifully and agonizingly emotive in her "Telephone Wire" finale.

Adult Alison's recollections of her father Bruce (Brent Black, who spent 14 years on stage in Mamma Mia!) are the mainstay of her story. Shadowy hints ("sometimes the fire burns so hot") belie his picture of a happy family quintet. His mercurial temper and determination that his home and business always be perfectly presented, his constant almost manic occupations as teacher, home-restorer and funeral home owner, paint a picture of a man on the run from himself. Black is amazing as Bruce; he is almost completely unlikable. Almost, because between the continuous offensive, nasty comments and lies, we see what he can't—an inevitable train wreck in his future.

When we meet medium Alison in college, she has lost her earlier childhood confidence and resilience. Nadine Pineda gives us a flawless exposé of the agony endured by her Alison, and we alternately laugh and cry as we endure her anguish ("Please don't let me be a lesbian, please don't let me be a lesbian") and relish the newfound bliss in her joyful first sexual relationship with her college friend. Her solo, "Changing My Major," is sensual, hilarious, brilliant, and vocal magic.

Helen Bechdel (Karen Ryan), pays a terribly high price to keep her marriage together and all the lies hidden. We know from an earlier outline, she had been a stage success in her own right. Her warning to her (medium Alison) daughter is heartbreaking, and her solo "Days and Days" beseeching her not to return, singing "I didn't raise you to give away your days like me" will resonate for many.

Koppany Pusztai plays multiple roles, Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby, and is well cast in all of them. He switches seamlessly between being a prospective purchaser of a fine coffin, to being the seduced underage schoolboy lover who brings the Bechdel house of cards down. Mariah Olesen as Joan, medium Alison's charming and delightful roommate and lover, plays her part with a gentle understanding and loving mischievousness. Christian and John Bechdel, Alison's brothers, are well played with obvious enjoyment by Teagan Boyes-Wetzel and Michael Blessing, respectively.

This production features the ideal live orchestra: Deb Dennard (piano/MD), Gretchen Amstutz (keyboard/MD), Alex Murzyn (reeds), Gwen-Marie Lerch (guitar), Brent Cline (bass), Kev Smith (drums), Wendi Dreesen (violin), and Max Light (cello) are perfect. Onstage for the entire show, barely discernible behind a gauze, they enhance every number without overpowering the vocalists—a difficult feat considering the relatively small performance venue.

Fun Home under Vaughn Irving's direction is a magnificent production. This collaborative harmony of Irving and his production team enabled the creation of a logistical and artistic set, which not only works for the space they are in, but also stays true to the thematic transformation of the original graphic elements of the novel. I give a big shout out to everyone for this one.

Fun Home, through June 30, 2019, at Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 E. DeVargas Street, Santa Fe NM. Ticket prices: General admission: $25; senior/military/educator: $20; students: $15. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 7.30pm, (Friday, June 21 - LGBTQ Night), Sunday at 2.00pm. For information and tickets, call 505-988-4262 or visit