FUN HOME

Arts Club Theatre Company, Granville Island Stage, until March 10th

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Penny Warwick

Arts Club’s Fun Home is an absolute triumph, in conception and delivery. It is the best show I have ever seen on their Granville Island stage, with talent overflowing from the cast and creative team in this heartfelt production.

 

Fun Home is the autobiographical story of Alison Bechdel, based on her graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In the musical we see Alison (played superbly by Sara Jeanne-Hosie) sketching out her life as she tries to untangle and unpack the tragedy of her father’s suicide. The concept is set up very well, with Alison arriving to her easel juggling a box full of items, her sketchpad and of course a disposable coffee cup (surely the universal telltale indicator of the artist hard at work). As she begins to muse on the items the stage lights up to reveal her childhood home. The set itself is wonderfully designed and dressed (by Amir Ofek), with vintage furniture and props, as well as semi-opaque walls which reveal the band behind on the stage.

 

We see Alison at three ages; Small Alison (the child), Medium Alison (the teenage college student) and Alison (the adult). The actresses are seamless in their characterisation and it is utterly believable that they are all the same person. Jaime Maclean as Small Alison is just phenomenal. She has so much power and emotion in her performance, which is no small feat given the range necessary. Her rendition of ‘Ring of Keys’ was the highlight of the show. Kelli Ogmundson should win awards with her comic timing, as Medium Alison her scenes include sexual awkwardness (and eventual awakening) and struggles of late adolescence are beautifully truthful and nuanced. Her romantic interest Joan (Sara Vickruck) provides a turn which proves that even a smaller role can be a starring one. Truthfully there is not a weak link in the cast, Janet Gigliotti is heartbreaking as the mother trying her best to keep everything together, whilst Eric Craig as Bruce (the father) keeps you in a state of constant unease as you watch him self-destruct and observe the powerful fallout all around him from his conscious (and unconscious) actions. All three of the young performers are exceptional. Glen Gordon and Nolen Dubuc (alongside Maclean) have a significant amount of stage time and prove that they are small but powerful professionals.

 

The book of the musical is very well written, and Lois Anderson has made strong choices in her direction which work with the material. Really, it’s hard to find fault with this production. So I won’t. This is a production which is billed as ‘A Coming-of-Age Musical’ which is a heartbreaking and fiercely funny journey, but honestly, it is so much more than that in a way I am struggling to find words to express. It is a brutal cross-section into a life which although exceptional shares so many universal struggles and emotions. This musical finds that very magical place where in one moment you are giggling while your heart aches and your chest feels tight. It is a musical which really makes you feel, whilst still retaining the polish and shine we expect when we hear that descriptor.

 

Oh goodness, go and see Fun Home. Just go.

 

By Daphne Cranbrook

 

There’s something for everyone in Fun Home, though that might not be obvious at first glance. A coming-of-age musical that follows a woman on a quest to elucidate memories of her childhood and the humans that inhabit them, this beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking piece with music by Jeanine Tesori, book & lyrics by Lisa Kron, all based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir is rife with moments of identification for anyone who grew up wondering who their parents were, really.

 

Fun Home examines Alison at three pivotal moments her life: pre-pubescent Small Alison, college-aged Medium Alison, and early middle-aged Alison, who also serves as the narrator. The three periods are interwoven beautifully, with each vignette enhancing the next. Director Lois Anderson should be applauded for seamlessly and clearly communicating these disparate but wholly connected narratives. Narrator Alison’s particular obsession is with her father, a closeted gay high-school teacher/historical restoration expert/funeral home director whose moments of tenderness are as rare and coveted as the antiques he restores. Their relationship is one of deep revelation and recognition of their sameness, coupled with complete alienation and unexplained rejection on the father’s part. Without a shred of dishonesty or melodrama, the actors navigate these tricky waters admirable, deftly portraying the paradoxes that can sometimes be at the very heart of our closest relationships.

 

There are plenty of seriously funny and seriously amusing moments in this show. Without spoiling too much, I will say that you can look forward to a jingle about formaldehyde, a ballad about switching majors (and teams), and some extremely eye-catching polyester ensembles. Absurdly entertaining? Yes. Ridiculously over-the-top? Never. Somehow even the ridiculous is done with honesty and candor.

 

It is notoriously difficult to cast children in stage productions, particularly musicals that demand convincing naturalism from their young actors. Anderson smartly cast Jaime MacLean, Glen Gordon, and Nolan Dubuc as the Bechdel siblings, none of whom are strangers to big stages. These young actors bring truth and vitality to their roles. MacLean, who plays Small Alison, is an absolute standout, transparently and unselfconsciously committing to a character who is discovering herself and her world at every turn. Small Alison’s moment of recognition in the achingly beautiful “Ring of Keys” was a showstopper for me, no doubt because of MacLean’s complete earnestness and vulnerability, something rare for an actor her age.

 

Eric Craig’s complete inhabitation of Bruce Bechdel, the narrator’s elusive, unpredictable father, contains not a moment of superficiality. Craig positively vibrates with self-loathing, torn between what is and what he wishes could be. From beginning to end, Craig’s portrayal is truthful and painfully raw; we, as an audience, are being given a gift to watch this very personal journey unfold so beautifully in front of us.

 

The rest of the ensemble are more than solid, adding their own depth of talent to the stage. As Helen Bechdel, Alison’s mother, Janet Gigliotti manages to deliver a performance that is at once closed off and exposed; she only finally, fully lets her guard down in the eleventh hour heartbreaker “Days and Days.” Sara Vickruck as Medium Alison’s gateway lesbian lover, Joan, is perfection, often stealing scenes with her impeccable timing and unabashed sex appeal. And Nick Fontaine rounds out the cast by nimbly depicting all variations of Bruce’s love interests.

 

This is a story of a comic-drawing queer woman, obsessed with her corpse-embalming gay dad, filled with characters who range from hot lawn boy to nuke-protesting dyke. And yet, it truly is a story for everyone, for anyone who has ever felt confused about who they are and why they are.