by Lindsey Hand
This 2015 Tony Award-winning musical leaps from the pages of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel and finds a home in Lincoln’s intimate TADA Theatre. Pride month is the perfect time to catch this show that TADA is putting on for the first time in the Lincoln community theatre scene. The production was so well-done, you’ll want to change your major to This Musical!
Fun Home follows Alison Bechdel through three stages of life: childhood Small Alison (played by Allie Works), college-aged Medium Alison (Victoria Handford), and Alison, who is 43 (Rachel Pickrel). Alison (Pickrel) is observer to her former selves, actively seeking understanding and the ability to express her experiences in comic book form. As Alison visits the most salient moments of her growing up, she wanders the innovative set that was designed by Keri Kriston to resemble the graphic novel; though the set mimics the two dimensional, the story and characters are not. Alison grapples with the dysfunctional family dynamics of self-involved parents and a father who particularly views Alison as an extension of himself, his own worth and image. Their historic home in rural Pennsylvania becomes a museum of this perfected family façade for consumption by the outside world—yet inside, Alison and her father, Bruce (Matthew Clegg), flounder in their satisfaction with the others’ choices—both similar and distinct from one another in complicated ways.
Alison constructs her graphic tragi-comic in real time, recognizing her lesbian identity through moments of varying intensity: the paternal manipulation to don a dress, childhood appreciation of a butch delivery woman, and after her first sexual encounter with a woman in which she gesticulates emphatically that she wants to major in Joan (played by Amanda King). (Only several kisses are seen in this production, but the language and subject matter are adult.) These moments of queer realization allow this dynamic cast to gleam as bright as Bruce’s best polished silver.
Allie Works’ small frame fills the entire space with her presence. Every actor in this musical does an exceptional job remaining rooted and honest in the action; the children actors are no different. In the song “Ring of Keys” when Small Alison is first attracted to a delivery woman, we see Works actively searching (and unable to find) the words for what she is feeling. The three Alisons’ performances are seamless, as the physicality and vocal inflection of the actors mirror each other throughout the show. All iterations of Alison are aflutter in their gestures and vocalization, making the high points all the higher to contrast the show’s tense and tragic moments. We laugh with dorky, finger guns-a-pointin’ Medium Alison when she whirls around the bed of her sleeping Joan, reveling in the manifestation of her sexual confusion that ended during that expedition.
The acting and singing throughout the production will have you thinking “wow, this is really happening in Lincoln, Nebraska.” Casting was phenomenal, as the voices stitch together in tone and timbre for the entirely of the production. Though each voice is distinct, each is bright with bubbling emotion beneath. Just try and contain yourself when Alison’s mother, Helen (Cris Rook), spills forth a room of emotions she’d been boarding up behind decades of her closed-door mouth. Helen’s final song juxtaposes earlier work by Alison’s sibling trio (Sam Maser and Vincent Taddeucci), who leapt about the family funeral home business in effort to construct a commercial for “the Fun Home.” And though Jared Flodman plays a few smaller roles to fill out the production, his voice and presence is also not to be forgotten.
Each actor, musician, and crew member worked in tandem with the directors to create a vision of what I am calling Small Moments That Matter. Mandi Maser’s choreography had the sibling trio emphasizing the hilarity of their Fun Home commercial with punctuated hip shakes—such attention to detail reverberated through the show, heightening the highest and lowest action. Not only had the three Alisons clearly worked together to construct a cohesive identity, but the direction played into these slivers of moments. The historic Bechdel home became a symbol, splicing past and present like when Alison rifles through her father’s belongings and chuckles at a ring of keys. Director and Assistant Director (Robert D. Rook and David Grabarkewitz, respectively) used every inch of the stage for impact; everyone involved was a part of the team driving the urgency of this production with a finesse that must be seen to be believed. You’ll laugh-weep. You’ll cry-weep. You’ll be up to yer weepin’ eyeballs in Small Moments That Matter.
There is no intermission during the production. My only critique of the show is that several audience members should have been more respectful with their errant use of digital watches to check the time. Know that you will be seated for around an hour and forty minutes, accept, appreciate, and prepare to be floored. Come home to TADA’s Fun Home.
If you go: You can catch TADA’s Fun Home June 6—23 with 7:30 pm curtain times Thursday—Saturday and 2:00 pm on Sundays. Reservations are encouraged and can be made online.
Lindsey Hand is an English teacher in Lincoln Public Schools, though she first got halfway through Theatre Performance and Speech-Language Pathology degrees. As a performance artist, Lindsey represented Omaha at the National Poetry Slam while acting as Managing and Artistic Director of Red Theater Lincoln. LiHand is a Gaffney Award-winning essayist, winner of both 2nd and 3rd place Laurus awards for poetry, and an avid plant parent.
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