Review of Fun Home at Take Two Productions

    Take Two Productions is a community theater that gravitates toward musicals of substance, such as its current offering, Fun Home. The company presents the show with great distinction.

    The musical is based on the 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by cartoonist and graphic novelist, Alison Bechdel. The title refers ironically to the place where Bechdel grew up. It is a fun home not because it is a happy place to live but because “fun home” is short for “funeral home.” The family’s house is its place of business as well as its residence.

    In Lisa Kron’s book for the musical, middle-aged Alison is telling her own story but not with the confidence of an omniscient narrator. Rather, she is trying to come to terms with her past by rooting through objects from her childhood and their emotional connections.

    Alison’s memories cluster around two periods in her life: when she was about 10 years old and when she left home for college. Younger versions of Alison appear in the scenes she recalls.

    Small Alison tries to cope with a disapproving father whose demands go against her nature. Middle Alison must cope a series of events outlined at the start of the show. During her first year at Oberlin, she recognizes her lesbian sexuality. After coming out to her parents in a letter, she learns of her father’s life as a closeted gay man. Somewhat later, he is killed in a traffic accident for which there is no explanation.

    The highly personal story is ideally suited to Take Two’s intimate production. The cast deserves unqualified praise for both their acting and their singing. The Alisons are Ann Hier Brown as the adult narrator, Zoe Maya Miller as the college student, and Kalia Pagano as the youngest. The complete arc of Alison’s emotional journey could not be more convincing than it is in these three performances.

    As Alison’s father, Jonathan Hey captures the darkness of having a secret life and acting on urges that endanger his secret. The anguish caused by her marriage is fully evident in Stephanie Merritt’s portrayal of Alison’s mother.

    As played by Katie Orr, Alison’s first lover, Joan, is the most empathetic of partners. Stephen Henley demonstrates his versatility in several roles. Asher Woodward and Sam Koehne give fully believable performances as Alison’s brothers.

    The production is a triumph for Stephen Peirick, who is credited in the program with the direction, choreography, costumes, lighting, and props. Peirick shares the scenic design credit with master carpenter Josh Smith. The set’s hand-drawn look is an inspired choice for a show about a cartoonist. The sound design is in the capable hands of Karen Fulks.

    The show features a wonderful score with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Music director Matthew Kauzlarich conducts an excellent band including himself on piano, Marie Brown on cello, Luke Mankovich on reeds Michaela Kuba on bass, Jason Weaver on guitar, Jillian Hamill on iolin and viola, and Matthew Clark on drums.

    Fun Home continues through October 16 at Johnson Hall in the Third Baptist Church, 620 North Grand Boulevard.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Kim Smith