Keith Dougherty’s review of Fun Home

June 1, 2018

Center for Performing Arts

Rhinebeck

     As a reviewer, there is somewhat of a format we use to write our reviews. After having the good fortune of attending the opening night performance of Fun Home, all I really wanted to do was throw any format out the window and, and yell out that window, “Run to see Fun Home!”

Rhinebeck Theatre Society’s, incredibly emotional regional premiere of this ground-breaking musical, is being presented as part of the Rhinebeck Theatre Society’s 2018 “Season of Women,” in partnership with Hudson Valley LBGTQ Community Center. This passionate double coming-out story won the 2015 Tony award for Best Musical, and this production hit it out of the park.

This innovative musical is an adaptation of cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s memoir, and told in a mix of flashbacks to the 1970’s and 80’s. Playwright, Lisa Kron, and composer, Jeanine Tesori’s musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s novel, about a lesbian cartoonist in her early 40’s, reflecting on growing up in suburban Pennsylvania in the 1970’s. It was a bittersweet time in her life when she finally realized, and accepted she was gay – and shortly after, found out her father was gay as well.

“I leapt out of the closet and four months later, my father killed himself by stepping in front of a truck,” Alison tells us early on. Although this reveal may have diminished the plot in terms of suspense, it certainly did not diminish the intense power of the storytelling. In fact, knowing the outcome, made the journey that much more heart-wrenching for the audience. Amidst laughter, tension, and tears, we took that journey with Alison, and her family, and it was truly unforgettable.

Not wanting to give too much more away, in this multi-layered diary, if you will, Alison (Ashley France) observes herself from childhood (Eliza Petronio/Erin Flory), and into her later teen years (Mary Kate Barnett). Each portrayal was vivid, poignant and superbly crafted. Ashley France’s adult Alison grabbed us the moment the lights came up and she immediately made me want to hear her story – whether she was saying it or singing it. An excellent and insightful performance, where her tears became our tears. On opening night, Small Alison was played by the brilliant Eliza Petronio, and I am still wondering how someone so young can have such incredible depth and vision. In an unforgettable scene, the small, tomboyish Alison (Petronio) sees a butch-looking delivery woman come in to a diner, and sings the incredibly powerful song, “Keys,” referring to the woman’s ring of keys. I noted immediately, I felt as if Alison was actually seeing that woman in front of her. Petronio’s range of natural emotion was remarkable. As for the Medium Alison, Mary Kate Barnett was perfection. A high note for me, was after Medium Alison meets her soon to be first girlfriend in college, Joan, quite credibly played by Lisa Delia, and sings the amazing, “Changing my Major.” All these performances tugged at your heartstrings and allowed the audience to feel what they were feeling.

As for those heartstrings, as Alison’s mother, Joan, Alex Heinen gave us an incredibly touching, vastly layered, and poignant portrayal of a woman on the edge. In an excellent performance, Heinin broke our hearts with the mere expressions on her face. We completely felt her pain as she did her best to be there for her children but became less and less able to accept her husband’s homosexuality. As Alison’s father, Bruce, Jared Allyn Decker, was flawless in his portrayal as an unraveling father and husband. Teaching English, fixing up heritage homes, and running the family funeral home he inherited (the “fun home” of the title), we witness Bruce’s tortured, complex journey. Decker handled this with seamless transitions in an extremely moving tour-de-force.

Playing Alison’s younger siblings, Christian and John, were Jamison Fountain and Molly Lyons. Both were wonderful and stood out in their musical numbers. Lyons almost stole the show in one of the two really fun, upbeat songs, where they were recording a musical commercial for the Fun Home. Rounding out the cast, Dylan Tomas Kastel, very convincingly played Roy, and other young men who caught Bruce’s eye.

Kudos to Director Dot Luongo for this absolutely beautiful, yet gut-wrenching journey she arranged to take us on. Luongo obviously has an incredible eye for detail, and her cast soared, with simple, clean, and incredibly effective staging. The modest, yet ingenious set, designed by Andy Weintraub, rolled on and off seamlessly. Tesori wrote a top-notch score, and all the leads did it justice with wonderfully impressive voices. Musical Directors, Paul and JoAnne Schubert, commanded a wonderful orchestra right on stage, above all the action.

The Rhinebeck Theatre Society’s production of Fun Home will continue its run at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck through Sunday June 24. Tickets are available at the box office (845) 876-3080 or go to www.centerforperformingarts.org/                                                                                                                                                

 

 

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