Left to right (Foreground) Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Jordan Price(Background) Carmen Tate, Erin Jump. Photo: Bill Brymer.
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel
Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Michael J. Drury
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Walking into the Henry Clay Theater for Pandora Productions’ Fun Home, the first thing you notice is the white stage. Blank and solid, like a canvas or a sheet of paper. An artist’s stand sits to the side of the stage with drawing pads, pencils, and other supplies. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the musical follows Bechdel as she reflects, creates and struggles to draw each panel of her memoir. As her drawings pop up on a screen behind the actors, we see Bechdel’s parallels with her father, his struggle with mental illness and self-acceptance and the effect on the family. While looking back at adversity, coming out, and family bonds, Bechdel’s story of closure and clarity is one relatable to any family.
Along with being a cartoonist, Alison Bechdel championed the “Bechdel test,” a theory that two female characters cannot share a scene without talking about a male character. While Fun Home focuses on Bechdel’s father, her relationship with the complicated man leads her to ask questions, find resolutions, and re-live mysterious open-ended moments. Set within a series of 1970’s flashbacks, the family strives to keep the high-strung matriarch happy. Bechdel’s father is villainous at times as he projects his self-hatred onto Alison, demands perfection from her school projects, and bullies her into following societal expectations by shaming her into wearing a dress. An important work of literature and theater, Fun Home is a show that needs to be seen now more than ever.
Alison is a character famously divided into three parts; adult, medium, and small. In this production small Alison is double cast with Carmen Tate and Molly Dauk; I was fortunate to see Tate’s performance. A fun-loving tomboy who constantly plays games and gets into mischief with her brothers John and Christian (played with scene-stealing energy by Keegan Conner and Finnegan Broyles), Tate delivers a strong performance. With Conner and Broyles, she is fearless and rambunctious singing “Raincoat of Love” and “Come to the Fun Home.” Tate shows her character’s vulnerability as she yearns to understand and connect with her father. The performance comes to a dramatic crux with “Ring of Keys,” a ballad she sings with joy and confidence in the face of personal truth.
Mandi Elkins Hutchins serves well as Alison in the present day. Constantly doodling and re-examining scenes from her life, Hutchins brings out a relatable portrayal. She cringes and laughs at her past self yet brings insightful reflections on hard memories and the questions that haunt her. In recounting her adolescence and college years, Hutchins’ performance is bittersweet yet powerful. In her reluctance to address the tragedy in her life, the number “Telephone Wire” lends itself to Hutchins’ vocal strength as she pleas to “make this not the past.”
Needless to say, relationships with parents are an overarching theme. Erin Jump’s Medium Alison feels the strain and distance within her family as she comes into her own. Jump is charming, awkward and insecure as she falls in love for the first time. She is a humorous delight as she hits each comedic bit and delivers a sweet rendition of “Changing My Major.”
As Helen and Bruce, Hannegan Roseberry and Jordan Price deliver tough performances illustrating a troubled marriage. Roseberry’s Helen demands perfection from herself and her family to a fault. Her drive is influenced by fear and the struggle for a happy home. Roseberry delivers a housewife who ignores what she knows and settles for nothing until her heartbreaking rendition of “Days and Days.” Jordan Price brings to life a patriarch who rules his household with strict rules and high expectations as Bruce. Price’s performance is riddled with turmoil and secrets for which he compensates with perfection in his home. Price handles the mania and depression Bruce encounters with ease and balance without appearing insincere. Although his vocal showed strain from time to time, his strongest moment happens in a cathartic and yet hyper manic performance of “Edges of the World.”
Extra kudos is extended towards Jenrose Fitzgerald whose drawings appear throughout the production as a punctuation of profound moments in Bechdel’s story. Indeed, what starts off as a blank page at the top of the show soon becomes panels of poignant drawings full of clarity and understanding. Fun Home at Pandora Productions is a reminder of what holds families together and what you can gain from examining the past.
November 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 @ 7:30 pm
November 10 @ 2:30 pm & 17 @ 5:30 pm
Henry Clay Theater
604 South 3rd Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her BA in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!