TAYLORSVILLE — As an avid reader I’ve always thought writing a memoir would be incredibly difficult. Even if names and details are changed, it would be hard for a writer to put his or her story and the stories of their loved ones out there for the world to criticize and scrutinize. Well, cartoonist Alison Bechdel has had the guts to do this twice. First, with her graphic novel memoir Fun Home published in 2006 and then allowing the book to be made into a Broadway musical premiering in 2015. Wasatch Theatre has a new production of the musical, Fun Home, and while imperfect it’s worth seeing for its bold story and sincere performances.
Fun Home tells Alison Bechdel’s life through the lens of 3 eras of her life (adult Alison doesn’t get her own plot but is more of a narrator commenting on Small and Medium Alison.) The narrative focuses on Alison’s story as a lesbian who comes out in college (Medium Alison) and her experiences with her parents- particularly her father Bruce Bechdel who as a closeted gay man commits suicide months after Alison comes out to him and her Mother.
It is obvious from that description this is a heavy show. It’s hard to think of a Broadway musical that’s as raw and heartbreaking and based on a true story. Most people look to musical theater for escapism so the experience of connection Fun Home provides is a very unique experience. We watch it not to step away from life’s problems but to be reassured that someone else understands them and can empathize. That’s the gift Alison Bechdel gave by sharing her story and it’s a powerful theatrical experience.
The production of Fun Home by Wasatch Theatre Company is being put on at Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in their studio theatre where audiences look down on the minimalist stage. Director Kacey Spadafora makes sure the focus remains predominantly on the actors by having only a few pieces of furniture and projections of the actual ‘fun home’ the real Bechdel family lived in (Spadafora is also listed as set/projection designer for the show). There is also some rope LED lighting in the floor to section off different performers. This helps with the nonlinear storytelling and has, for example, Adult Alison commenting in one box on what her father or the other Alisons are doing in another box/timeline.
There is no intermission for Fun Home and it comes in at under 2 hours, which I think helps with the heaviness. There are also some comedic scenes put in to help break up the traumatic moments. Most of the funny parts involve Medium Alison (played by Caitlin Rose) coming to terms with her sexuality and she probably has the funniest song with “Changing My Major.” Tessa Irish-Minewiser has a lot of fun in these scenes playing Alison’s more experienced partner Joan.
It’s always a treat to have a live band in a small local show like Wasatch Theatre’s production of Fun Home. I was particularly impressed with Oswaldo Chirinos Nava on cello and electric bass. The musical score by Jeanine Teson is beautiful and has a haunting cello harmony in it.
The songs with lyrics by Lisa Kron work better for the show as a whole than as individual solo pieces. Because of the non-linear storytelling and 3 Alisons at different ages, it can feel a bit tonally jarring and only 2 songs really stand out on their own: “Ring of Keys” sung by Young Alison and “Days of Days” sung by mother Helen. What’s kind of neat is at Wasatch Theatre Co both of these roles are played by real-life mother/daughter team of Lindsay Spring Browning (Helen) and Vivien Nyx Browning (Young Alison.)
While admitting the songs aren’t the most memorable, I do think the book also by Kron is a piece of theatre that sticks with me for many days after I’ve seen it. As I said, Bechdel has allowed her family to be portrayed, especially her father, in all their flawed glory. Seeing such hurt and pain can be a cathartic experience and it at least helps me to watch it and process my own struggles in a meaningful way. I imagine especially members of the LGTBQ community will be moved by Alison’s coming out story, and her father’s cautionary tale of the dangers of living a closeted life.
While I do appreciate Wasatch Theatre Co for putting on such a mature and challenging show, they did have some issues particularly with the microphones that hopefully can be explained by opening night jitters. I have also seen other performances of Fun Home with a little more polish to the singing and acting but there was nothing too distracting. It was fine for a local production with cast and crew giving it their all.
All in all, Fun Home is a show worth seeing for its honest and raw portrayal of a struggling American family and a woman learning to own her sexuality (and her Dad completely failing to own his.) Its a totally unique experience in the world of musical theatre and it fits in perfectly with Wasatch Theatre’s commitment to telling diverse, relevant and bold stories. Such efforts should be rewarded and I definitely recommend checking this one out.