Review: Fun Home at Civic Theatre "Keeps the Audience on a Nerve Wracking Rollercoaster Ride"

May 9, 2019

Fun Home is a theatrical adaptation of the 2006 graphic memoir, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel.  Fun Home won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, along with four other awards to Michael Cerveris for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Sam Gold for Best Direction of a Musical, Lisa Kron took the Best Book, and Kron and Jeanine Tesori took Best Original Score, making them the first female writing team to win in that category.  It was called, “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian” (Slate, 2015).

The production at Civic Theatre could win Best Production in the Lehigh Valley awards, if there was an actual event that celebrated the local theatre scene outside of the Freddy’s. The direction (William Ross Sanders), the acting, and the overall execution was stellar, to say the least. The audience is immediately drawn into the wonderful innocence of Small Alison’s (Golda Rabin) performance in the opening number, “It All Comes Back.” This number sets the audience up for the inevitable tragedy of her father unexpectedly dying at age 43. We know what is coming. Unless you’ve read the graphic novel, you don’t know how he dies until the end.

Bechdel was born in 1960. Her memories of her childhood are framed in the 1970s, when family issues of divorce, terminal or chronic disease, and sex were talked about in whispers. Alison’s memories of her childhood and college years are adorned with the quirky styles of 1970s popular culture. The mix of anxiety and comic relief help give balance to a complicated family dynamic. The pace of the show, performed without intermission, keeps the audience on a nerve wracking rollercoaster ride of how Alison’s memory unfolds. Throughout the story, Alison (Kate Pistone) comes to understand the struggles her father faced in the generation who lived in the closeted times before Stonewall.

Emotions were rendered with such raw transparency, one could fully understand the inner turmoil of Bruce (Rip Cantelmi) and Helen (Kirsten Almeida), Alison’s parents. Small Alison and her brothers Christian (Todd Croslis) and John (Jordan Silver) were a believable set of siblings who grew up in a funeral home with a dysfunctional family. Medium Alison’s (Madeleine Huggins) self-discovery in college and her relationship with Joan (Veronica Bocian) is downright giddy as she delights in the wonders of sexual discovery.

The story comes full circle, and offers the audience an understanding of family, sexual identity, self-awareness, and challenges us to consider the struggles of homosexual people in a culture that isn’t quite fully accepting of their truths. We have evolved a bit post-Stonewall. But we have so far to go.

Fun Home continues at the Civic Theatre of Allentown until May 19th. Tickets can be purchased online