REVIEW: FUN HOME at Miners Alley
by Owen Niland
Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic-novel memoir, directed by Miners Alley Playhouse’s Artistic & Executive Director Len Matheo with music direction by Mitch Samu, the musical Fun Home tracks the complicated relationship between real-life cartoonist Bechdel and her closeted and tormented father, Bruce, who committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck during her first year in college.
Nearly the same age as her father when he died, the Alison of “Fun Home’’, played by the delightful Susannah McLeod, is trying to understand why he killed himself, how much or how little father and daughter had in common, and, ultimately, who he really was.
We see the events of Bechdel’s turbulent childhood and college years from the perspective of the cartoonist at age 43, beginning to assemble her memoir. Sophia Dotson portrays Alison as a 9-year-old girl (called Small Alison in the script), and Abigail Kochevar plays her as a college student (Middle Alison).
Dotson does a beautiful job throughout in an exceptionally challenging role for a child actor. Her rendition of “Ring of Keys,’’ in which the child experiences the first stirrings of understanding as she feels connection to an unseen but very butch delivery woman at a diner shows the young actress’ depth. Kochevar, meanwhile, expresses the endearing awkwardness of college-aged Alison as she embraces herself and her homosexuality. Kocher’s “Changing My Major,” sung to Joan (Chloe Mcleod), Alison’s sleeping new girlfriend, crystallizes that moment when a sexual awakening makes the whole world seem fresh, exciting and welcoming.
Rory Pierce’s Bruce is a compelling figure locked in a struggle between hiding his desires for other men and expressing himself fully. Obsessed with restoring the family’s Victorian home and maintaining the family’s funeral home business (their nickname for the home is the titular “fun” home), Bruce is short-tempered, controlling and often disengaged from his family as a result of this conflict – the closet is not a place for truth or connection. However, Pierce’s performance finds moments that suggest the decent man he could be, if he could be untethered from his lies.
It is McLeod’s Alison who anchors this production. Middle-aged Alison is a constant presence on Miners Alley’s intimate and sparsely set stage, commenting on or simply observing the play’s actions lifted from her own life. Her performance is an emotional stealth attack on the audience. Initially aloof from the events, her true connection to her childhood comes to the forefront during “Telephone Wire” when adult Alison takes the place of her adolescent selves to share a drive with her father. The simple lyrics and staging bring poignancy to a quiet moment of connection between child and parent, when both more and less are said all at once.
Rounding out the tight ensemble are Alison’s long-suffering mother Helen, fiercely played by Heather Lacy, whose powerhouse interpretation of a woman’s disappointment with her life in “Days and Days” is alone worth the ticket; Alison’s brothers Christian and John played charmingly by Brody Lineaweaver and Jack Eller, respectively; and handsome Marco Robinson as various incidental male characters.
Although the subject matter of Fun Home is decidedly heavy, several numbers are truly delightful and mood lightening. Especially Small Alison and her brother’s take on a commercial for the family’s morbid business “Come to the Fun Home,” which is a pure early-80’s delight. The three kids pull together one of the most genuinely fun production number on a Denver stage now.
As a package, Fun Home is all at once polished, professional, intimate and human; this is one well worthy of your attention.
Let FUN HOME awaken you at Miners Alley in Golden. Performances are Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through March 4th. Tickets are available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Avenue in Golden, CO.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Roshan Photography