Theater Review: FUN HOME (Chance Theater)

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by Marc Wheeler on February 13, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

TAKE A CHANCE WITH FUN

When a newly “out” lesbian learns her closeted father has taken his life mere months after revealing to him her sexuality, she has a lot to process. Being an artist, she attempts to make sense of her trauma through storytelling – that’s the power of art. More specifically, that’s the power of Fun Home, the poignant musical inspired by these real-life events as depicted in the graphic memoir of American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Now getting a relatively positive, intimate staging at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, this Tony Award-winner is a testament to the power of truth-telling.

Searching for answers, an adult Alison (circa early 2000s) reflects on her life with meticulous analysis – exploring her 1970s-era childhood in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, where her family ran a funeral (“fun”) home, her transformative college years in Ohio, and beyond. By way of three differently-aged actresses in this time-hopping work, we witness one woman’s metamorphosis into a life lived openly, as well as the cultural trappings that prevented her father from doing the same.

In the directorial hands of Marya Mazor, this intimate presentation is largely effective. While gone are the immaculate Broadway sets, the story – the work’s strong suit – is front and center. Even in such a small space, Bradley Kaye’s minimalistic scenic design seems spacious, allowing actors – dressed smartly in Bradley Lock’s period attire – to roam freely between theatergoers, who are seated alley-style on both sides of the playing area. (Such staging, however, periodically impairs views.) Coupled with the insightful book and lyrics of Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori’s music substitutes the grandiosity that is so often the hallmark of musical theater with personal immediacy. Here, a four-piece band under the baton of Lex Leigh fills the Chance with the songwriters’ music beautifully.

As Bruce Bechdel, Ron Hastings portrays the dandy whip-cracker with refinement and structure, especially as he maintains his museum-like home. While Hastings imbues the patriarch with a not-so-closeted flair (at least by modern hindsight), his risk-taking underbelly is the story’s intrigue. Through her father, Alison is taught survival skills of fitting-in, self-denial, and the importance of practicality over love — lessons painfully felt by Bruce’s wife Helen (Jennifer Richardson), whom he repeatedly wrongs by playing around with a string of boys. Richardson, with moderate vocal prowess, only occasionally delivers the emotional depth required of a woman drowning.

Set squarely behind her drawing board, Ashlee Espinosa (adult Alison) brings solid vocals and thoughtful reflection to the graphic novelist. As she mines her past, however, her emotions are kept at bay as if she were conducting an archeological excavation rather than allowing herself a means of catharsis. As college-aged Alison, the adorable Madelyn Velazquez starts out shy, but by “Changing My Major” she’s rapturously singing of her one true love (a confident Ketino Christopher as girlfriend “Joan”). In young Alison’s standout track “Ring of Keys,” child performer Holly Reichert’s nasal tonality is balanced by a sincere wisdom that defies her younger years – the song’s lyrical starts and stops show her elated heart aflutter as she “sees herself” in an older butch goddess.

Fun Home tackles with devastating contrast the social realities facing gay Americans across generations. And while it’s by no means a complete reflection of the gay experience, the work’s personal, biographical truths reveal with brutal honesty how such social change can quite literally mean the taking of life or the giving of it. (The fun or the funeral.) In experiencing such a work, we allow queer voices to be heard from either side of fate reminding us of the power society wields in shaping our own destinies. So step inside. While it certainly doesn’t live up to the large-scale national tour that swept through the Ahmanson three years ago, even with its cracks, this lil’ Home’s worth a night’s visit.

photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

Fun Home
Chance Theater
Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center
5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3 (check for exceptions)
ends on March 1, 2020 EXTENDED to March 8, 2020
for tickets, call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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