Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The play focuses upon Alison at three different ages and developmental stages, as she grapples to become honest and open about her sexuality. Luke Cantarella has created a flexible set that moves to accommodate various scenes, most of which occur in a small Pennsylvania town. Small Alison (Skylar Lynn Matthews), who is nine or 10, wonders whether she and her father Bruce (Aaron Lazar) are very, very much alike or just as different from one another. She will note analogies they share as the story moves forward. Medium Alison (Julia Nightingale) is a college freshman who becomes truthful about being a lesbian. Alison (Sarah Beth Pfeifer), the adult version, provides linkage to the shifting situations and occasionally identifies moments by saying "caption."
Meanwhile, Bruce and his wife Helen (Christiane Noll) struggle yet proceed. He is an English teacher who also runs a funeral home (abbreviated in nifty fashion as the title of the musical), and whose passion it is to work on their old home. "Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue" explains Bruce's desire to restore the place. Small Alison and her brothers John (Sam Duncan) and Christian (Myles Low) lighten and liven the scene with "Come to the Fun Home." All the while, however, Bruce, his homosexuality closeted, is distressed.
Director Rob Ruggiero excels as he pushes the pace and maximizes the use of the small TheaterWorks stage. The depth of the performance area is not sufficient to have a larger, inclusive location for all that transpires and, frankly, this production probably benefits as a result of closer confines. It is a tricky show to stage since the action, rather than moving forward in a straight line, tends to loop back and forth. The presence of adult Alison assists in connecting some of the figurative dots. In addition, Ruggiero adeptly coaches the talented young actors who are learning the craft.
Skylar Lynn Matthews, little Alison, wins hearts the moment she steps onto the stage and older Alison personas (Julia Nightingale and Sarah Beth Pfeifer) are terrific as well. Aaron Lazar's performance fully captures Bruce as a versatile, imaginative soul who is very much haunted. The actor, with numerous Broadway credits, has a rich singing voice, but it is his ability to get beneath the character's skin to evidence his inner torture which further distinguishes the depiction.
The music distinctively elevates Fun Home. The gifted Jeanine Tesori (also deservedly acclaimed for Caroline, or Change) has written some standard melodies and others which, suitable for the theme of this piece, are more minor in key. Lisa Kron provides lyrics that actualize Bechdel's memoir. Five musicians are hidden from view but they, led by conductor and keyboard man Jeff Cox, are of vital performance. This genre and this space are beautifully complementary for such an emotive piece. The production, one with plenty of zip, banks upon its sterling score and authentic, matching dialogue.
Fun Homeruns through October 30, 2022, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 860-527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.