Lisa Kron Spotlights Alison Bechdel’s Unfolding Sexual Identity
by Patricia L. Morin
Lisa Kron’s “Fun Home” is a beautiful, heart-rending portrayal of the hidden anguish of a dysfunctional family, as seen through the childhood, adolescent, and adult eyes of lesbian writer Alison Bechdel. The musical is based on Bechdel’s prize-winning autobiographical graphic novel—also called “Fun Home.”
Set Designer Michael Mingoia has created a simple, old Victorian living room with worn chairs and vintage William Morris black and white wallpaper. Colorful photos of their home, which doubles as a funeral parlor, are projected onto empty picture frames on the wall.
“Fun Home” is a deeply personal play that draws us in to how the individual stages of a child’s life develop into the emotional acceptance of the adult. We watch Alison’s childhood wonder unfold into adolescent angst, then into adult understanding. Using different actors for child, teen, and adult Alison, playwright Kron illuminates three stages of emotional growth.
Adult Alison (Emily Jansen-Adan), a writer and cartoonist, is desperately trying to understand her father Bruce’s (Anthony Martinez) mercurial moods and demanding perfectionism. Jansen-Adan sings the powerful and thought-provoking song “Maps,” which covers Alison’s dad’s life in a small town, in a small circle on a map: “What do you know that’s not your dad’s mythology? / Dad was born on this farm. / Here’s our house. / Here’s the spot where he died.”
Meanwhile, college-student Alison (Rae Lipman) transforms from bumbling heterosexual to outed lesbian. Lipman, the coed, unlocks her sexuality with the funny song “Changing My Major to Joan.” Her voice and attempts at sensual dancing amuse us. Although, when she seeks the approval of her mother and father, she learns of her father’s homosexuality.
As the youngest Alison, charming Addison Sandoval goes through changes she does not understand, as she faces conflicts over her sexual identity. Her father forces her to wear frilly dresses and barrettes which she detests. With her powerful voice, petite Sandoval touches us in her solo, my favorite “Keys.” In the song’s sounds of jangling keys, we feel her longings after a girl with a swagger.
As haunted Bruce, Martinez delivers a dynamic “Edge of the World.” We see and feel his torment, and his fear of “falling into nothingness.”
Director Maureen O’Neill draws the best from her excellent cast, orchestrating comic, crowd-pleasing scenes. Child Alison and her brothers (talented Belen Quinto and Milo Ward) create a hilarious TV commercial for the funeral home where the family lives.
Jeanine Tesori’s brilliant music and Kron’s moving lyrics transmit the feelings of the family, uninterrupted, like an emotional handwritten letter begging to be read. Each song expresses an individual experience artfully interpreted by Lucas Sherman and Grant Bramham, the two-person orchestra. I loved the use of the violin to accent the soulful sadness hidden in the joyful facade.
“Fun Home” at the new, bright Left Edge Theatre shows how our lives unfold from childhood to adulthood with unexpected challenges and changes. We may not expect the outcome, but like Alison, we can learn to accept all parts of ourselves. Don’t miss “Fun Home”!
“Fun Home” –music by Jeanine Tesori, book & lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, directed by Maureen O’Neill, at Left Edge Theatre, at The California Theatre, Santa Rosa, California. Info: LeftEdgeTheatre.com – to September 18, 2022.
Cast: Emily Jansen-Adan, Lorenzo Alviso, Bethany Cox, Elizabeth Henry, Rae Lipman Anthony Martinez, Theo Olson, Belen Quinto, Addison Sandoval, and Milo Ward.
Banner photo: Emily Jansen-Adan (Adult Alison) & Anthony Martinez (Bruce).