EPAC’s ‘Fun Home’ really is ‘theater that matters’

By on May 2, 2018

 

(Left to right) Conner Moodie as Christian, Caitlin Paige as small Alison, and John Laube as John during the dress rehearsal for “Fun Home” at Ephrata Performing arts Center.

I had an uncle who died in the closet. My wife and I (and several other family members and close friends) “knew” he was gay, but he never officially came out.

As a straight man I would never assume to fully know the struggles of a gay man in our modern times, but I have seen significant strides in social acceptance, political representation, and human cognizance over my years. I often think of my uncle and wish he could see the progress today. I like to think he would have come out by now, announced his sexuality, and he would have surely been embraced by those who loved him. I think he would be pleased with the opportunities the next generation of gay men will have.

He was born in the ‘40s, served in the US Navy during Vietnam, and died in 2007. For most of his life, men conformed to a role, which included a heterosexual lifestyle. A lot has changed over the past decade. If not for cancer, would he have had a same-sex marriage? Would he have transformed from passive gay rights parade attendee to activist for change? I’m only left to imagine.

I thought of my uncle while leaving EPAC Thursday, March 26 after the opening of “Fun Home.” And I would refrain from speaking for the organization, but these thoughts, this topic, this albeit once-sided conversation in print is why it is so important to stage “theater that matters.” Lives are in the balance. Stories need to awaken.

The life of teacher, handyman, and funeral director Bruce Bechdel is the subject of the musical “Fun Home.” Bruce, like my uncle, lived and died in the closet. Theatregoers meet Bruce (Nick Smith) as his young family readies their restored home for a social visit in the number “Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue.” Everything is in its place. The scene sets the background for the story. Bruce is married to Helen (Stacia Smith) and the couple lead a postcard life with their three children: Small Alison (Caitlin Paige), Christian (Conner Moodie), and John (John Laube) — or, so it seems. We immediately learn Bruce is leading a hidden life.

Although he is the catalyst for the tale, “Fun Home” is not Bruce’s story. It’s Alison Bechdel’s (real life cartoonist) reflection on her home life in rural Pennsylvania, told through her circuitous memories as Adult Allison (Megan Falasco). While working to fully understand her relationship with her father

Adult Alison sends the audience through her memoirs capsulated in musical numbers ranging from heart wrenching (“Days and Days”) to hilarious (“Come to the Fun Home”). We reflect on Alison as a child, not wanting to wear a party dress like the other girls. We meet Medium Alison (Cora Siburt) off in college, meeting up with a new love interest, Joan (Skye Hewish-Schmid). And when she comes home during a semester break, daughter and father try in vain to connect — being both nothing and exactly alike.

The strain of his own life becomes too much for Bruce.

The beauty of the story belongs to the Alisons. All three actors portray the same intelligent, inquisitive, and sensitive character. By personal preference, if I had to pick a favorite Alison it would be the Medium; I found it easy to connect with Medium Alison. She is the hinge upon which the soul of the story swings and Siburt presents a character who is both lovable and awkward, intelligent and naïve, strong and lost.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” was drafted into a musical by writer and lyricist Lisa Kron, with music by Jeanine Tesori.

The cast of “Fun Home” at EPAC includes (standing, left to right) Cora Siburt, Nick Smith, and Megan Falasco; (floor) Caitlin Page; and (sitting) Stacia Smith

Musically, this show is one of the most engaging productions I have seen. The songs meld together, yet stand apart, just like the mosaic of Alison’s life. Tesori, who also wrote music for “Shrek The Musical,” new music for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and produced the recent revival of “Sunday in the Park with George,” is a force; songs from “Fun Home” have been stuck in my head for days, especially “Telephone Wire.”

Pushing the melodic earworms at EPAC is music director Zach Smith serving as pianist and conductor of the six-piece band for “Fun Home.” The show is skillfully directed by EPAC’s artistic director Edward Fernandez, with Jordan Janota once again designing a beautiful and functional set. Lights flicker like memories as dozens of lamps are suspended from the theatre ceiling. The stage starts awash in green and transforms from living room to funeral home, then to artist’s studio to dorm room with ease in this lightly propped production.

I’d like to give a special shout out to the young Moodie who seemed to be at absolute ease on the stage opening night. He serves as a bit of comedic relief. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the acting married couple of Nick and Stacia Smith (EPAC’s 2016 “Hello, Dolly!”) grace a stage and once again it was a wonderful experience. There’s something to be gained from their chemistry, which translates to a character’s authenticity.

A well-formed bundle of entertainment, “Fun Home” is simple and moving; it asks the viewer to try and completely understand those who we are closest to — our family. In its construction, the show is a perfect one act tale highlighting what it is to be part of humanity. Short and sweet, “Fun Home” is a glimpse at a life unlike, but maybe similar to, our own.

“Fun Home” will be staged through May May 12 at Ephrata Performing Arts Center (EPAC), 320 Cocalico St., Ephrata. Tickets can be purchased at ephrataperformingartscenter.com, or by calling the box office at 717-733-7966.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

Three actresses play the role of Alison in EPAC’s production of “Fun Home.” They are (left to right) Cora Siburt, Megan Falasco, and Caitlin Paige. (LNP file photos)

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