Alison Bechdel, author and cartoonist of the graphic novel that “Fun Home” is based on, created the Bechdel Movie test. In order to pass, a movie needs to meet three criteria: have two women (named) in it, who then talk to each other about something other than a man. Naturally “Fun Home,” the Tony-award winning musical, passes that test.
That doesn’t mean that men are excluded from this play though; in fact, the father is a major character. The show is billed as a play about a young girl’s coming of age and finding her sexual identity, but I believe it’s more universal than that. It’s about fathers and daughters. Every daughter wants her father to accept her and to love her no matter what. And Alison’s father is a real doozy.
The fact that the play’s serious issues are often portrayed with humor and in song is an achievement in itself. High five to Bechdel for her novel, Lisa Kron, credited with the book and lyrics, and Jeanine Tesori’s music for not only accomplishing the task but making every aspect of the production compliment the other. It’s an incredibly emotional show that will leave you drained, but in a way uplifted. There are many inspirational moments, for even in a life with an unstable person you’re bound to have your own life-changing moments, and hopefully those big moments will over shadow the ones you want to forget. “Fun Home” is real and it hits you in the gut. We left choked up but awestruck.
In a nutshell, this production has a well-written script, incredible cast and the superb direction of Ashley Brooke Monroe (who served as acting director for its Broadway debut), which adds up to a must-see for Cape Cod theater-goers.
Alison, the central character, is portrayed by three actors. First we meet Amanda Collins as the adult Alison, and as we get to know her, we understand more and more as we meet her younger selves. Collins, a gifted actor, gives the audience a controlled glimpse of the character each time we see her, always on the fringe of the evolution of her younger selves. I loved how the play reveals the challenges of coming out and being yourself. Collins guides us with effortless aplomb. A child finds their own way and you need to not just respect her choices but sit back and enjoy who she is; a tough lesson for some parents.
“Fun Home” shows us Alison’s journey to adulthood and how her parents began to understand their daughter’s choices, and she theirs. It’s not smooth sailing. Carly Williams, Ashlyn Inman and Collins, the actors who portray Alison at different ages, embrace the character in each time of her life: child, college student and adult. The three actors are so good. Williams (“Ring of Keys”) and Inman (“Changing My Major”) each had moments where they brought the opening night audience to their feet.
Richard Sullivan’s portrayal of Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, is both understated and over-the-top. This manic character is one you despise, yet you can still recognize why his daughter adores him. Sullivan captures that fine line believably. Maura Hanlon as Helen, Alison’s mother, has the tightest rope to walk, and Hanlon doesn’t disappoint. Hanlon is simply amazing. “Days and Days” had us on the edge of our seats. And the minor yet pivotal characters in this drama all step up and step back superbly as catalysts to some explosive happenings on stage. They are Brittany Rolfe, Dan Prior, Tyler Brackett and Julian Lajoie.
The music adds to the melancholy of the show. The violin especially is a perfect backdrop to many of the emotional scenes. Kudos to musical director Robert Wilder (conductor and keyboard), John M. Dirac (guitar), Michael Dunford (drums) and David Gable/Sara DeGraide (violin) for always enhancing but never over-powering the powerful action on the stage.
Brandon Powers choreography was fabulous in “Come to the Fun Home” with Williams, Brackett and Lajoie; it was literally a show stopper when this talented trio performed it. Ryan McGettigan’s set design, with David A. Sexton’s lighting, was pretty cool. Robin McLaughlin’s costumes embellished but never drew away from the moving scenes. She always hit the mark. Gotta give a shout out to the props team. The props screamed affluence on a simple set. Stage managers Kate Gulden and Mairead Kress added to the production in more ways than we’ll ever know, managing light cues, blocks and so much more.
There is much more to say about this show but I don’t want to ruin the experience (or give away any secrets), for it is an experience. Just go see “Fun Home.” You will leave drained yet oddly enlightened.
At Cape Rep Theatre, Route 6A, Brewster
Through thru Oct. 14, Tuesday to Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org