REVIEW: FUN HOME is a heartwarming & heartbreaking trip down memory lane

By Jody Tuso- Key and Madelyn Green –Photo Credit Casey Gardener

ATLANTA 2/2/2019

PROLOGUE: I’m excited to announce that this review is a collaboration piece between me and my wonderful junior correspondent, Madelyn Greene. Madelyn brings a lot to the table for reviews. While only 15 years old, she has performed in numerous stage and screen productions. I’ve known her for many years having worked with her in Play On Players. If you’ve seen Dolly Parton’s new Netflix series, HEARTSTRINGS, you’ll see Madelyn as Young Bitsy in the episode entitled CRACKER JACK. She is wise beyond her years and will be graduating high school this year with an associates in college thanks to Georgia’s move on when ready program. Mady, as I affectionately call her, is my daughter from another mother. Therefore it was surprisingly fitting that I brought her with me to FUN HOME.

Rhyn McLemore Saver as Alison and Jeff McKerly as Bruce

CAPTION: THE STORYLINE PARALLELS JODY’s LIFE

I’m guessing the main character, Alison, was born in 1966. The initial clue I took was the scene where the kids are with their dad in New York City, and they Reference the bicentennial. Allison looks like she was probably 10 years old. I was also 10 years old in 1976. I imagine Allison could have been one if my best friends growing up.

In the New York scene, the kids make references to a show they saw containing the song “Tits and Ass”. A CHORUS LINE was a staple in my house growing up, and my parents would allow my sister Ann and I to entertain family members and their closest friends. Ann would play piano and my 12 year-old self would proudly and emphatically belt out “Tits and Ass” at the top of my lungs.

The second clue was Allison’s obsession with a television show not named in the production, but clearly patterned after the THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. This was one of my favorite musical numbers in the show, and I couldn’t stop laughing as the whole cast saturated the stage wearing crush velvet and revolutionary style tops. Very Paul Revere and the Raiders!

In contrast to Allison, I was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t define us by our sex. We had our barbies and dolls, but Dad also built his 5 girls a workbench our in the garage and bought us trucks and cars to play with. My parents didn’t care if we were tomboys or got dirty, but we didn’t mind wearing dresses either.

I especially enjoyed the children’s performances. Eden Mew, Vinnie Montague, and Alex Newberg brought down the house with their rendition of a commercial for the funeral home. They are also as delightful off stage as they are on stage, and it was fun talking to them and getting to know them better after the show.

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Eden Mew as Small Alison

CAPTION: JODY WAS SURPRISINGLY UNPREPARED FOR FUN HOME

Normally I prepare to go see a show. I read a synopsis online, and find the tracks on Apple Music. This helps me focus on all aspects of the show, since I already know the story line. What I mean by that is when I watch a show for review, I pay attention to the entire production; the acting, costumes, set design, light design, sound design, and directorial vision and choices. I have to confess, with the school year beginning and my uncanny ability to over commit, I hadn’t done my due diligence for FUN HOME. I knew it was a popular Broadway show, and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of folks who entered the ticket giveaway. I’d seen the video preview Actor’s Express published on Facebook, so I knew to expect some amazing vocals. What I worried would be over-stimulation for me while I was trying to digest elements of the show having not heard the musical beforehand turned out to be serendipitous. I found myself immersed inside Allison’s mind and got to experience her raw story in an authentic way that was equally as raw. Sometimes it’s good not to know what you’re getting yourself into.

CAPTION: A BEAUTIFUL TRIBUTE FOR THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY

There’s been a lot of gay programming out there lately. I have no opposition to that as my oldest child is an active member of the LGBTQ community, diversity is important, and everyone’s story has a right to be told. What bothers me is often I see material that is either just gay for gay’s sake and not very substantial, or turns gayness into a humorous art form saturated with jokes that diminish characters as human beings.

FUM HOME is none of the above. It’s an authentic look at snapshots from a 42-year-old’s life, her relationship with her father, and her coming of age and out of the closet. The juxtaposition of Allison coming to terms with her sexuality and opposition to her father denying his own sexuality provides a heart wrenching twist. Allison‘s dad, Bruce, lived in a time where certain norms were expected. In 1960s predominantly WASP America, men got married, had a family, and became productive members of society. If they were gay, it was expected to be kept in the closet. Like Bruce, They struggled with who they were, and their consciences told them they were evil. In Bruce’s case, he overcompensated by demanding perfection of his family and mainstreaming of his daughter. In a scene where he demands Allison wear a dress to a party, he ruthlessly shames her into it. In the 1970s this played out in many households containing a tomboy in some form or another.. By today’s standards what Bruce put his family and especially Allison through would be considered emotional abuse. Speakeysie favorite, Jeff McKerley as Bruce once again pours his heart and soul into his character and delivers a stellar performance.

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Jeff MrKerley brings a raw vulnerability to the character of Bruce

MADELYN’S TURN

CAPTION: DIFFERING PERSPECTIVES ALLOW THE STORY TO RESONATE WITH ALL AGES

The compelling performances of all three Allisons leads the audience to understand the character in a way that would be impossible if told through any alternate narrative device. No matter the age, Allison’s earnest joy and thirst for exploration come out to excite audiences.

Each Allison gifts the audience with moments of laughter, sorrow, and empathy. Eden Mew as Small Allison is spunky and adorable, recounting her first crush on an “old school butch” mailwoman in “Ring of Keys.” She was beyond impressive. I honestly can’t believe that that incredible caliber of performance came from a sixth grader. Marissa Cunning’s Medium Allison also delights in her lightheaded exploration of her newfound identity, singing a thoroughly enjoyable “Changing my Major to Joan.“

Helen, Allison’s Mother, is another woman who put up with this manipulation from Bruce. Through her husbands endless affairs and his mental instability and outbursts, Helen still tries to hold her family together and guide her children, especially Allison, to be better people. Natasha Drena was perhaps the standout performer of the night; she was absolutely captivating in this role. Her performance of “Days and Days” was heartbreaking, and the final lines of the song had goosebumps running down my arms.

Truthfully, there wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Each performer had the the opportunity and skillset to effectively tell their character’s side of an undeniably complex and difficult situation.

CAPTION: THE VERSATILITY OF THE SCORE LIFTS THIS BEAUTIFUL STORY TO ANOTHER LEVEL

The complexity of this story (told almost exclusively through flashbacks) could be hard to follow if not told expertly. Thankfully, instead of being disjointed or confusing, the wonderful storytelling, direction, and score all work together to forward the story seamlessly.

The precarious nature of the family’s normalcy is punctuated by the quick rollercoaster of emotions: there is a brutally quick transition from the humorous funeral commercial the children make in “Come to the Fun Home” to the spine-chilling “Helen’s Etude,” in which Bruce has an affair one room over from his children and wife’s piano playing.

Allison’s determination to break the mold her father has set for her is made bittersweet by the parallels irreversibly woven between them; Bruce’s descent towards death is mirrored by the freedom Allison felt in college, and her wish to understand him and his actions drive the show forward at an engaging but not uncomfortable pace.

The reprises abundant in this score unify Allison as one character beautifully. The finale “Flying Away” showcases Allison’s relationship with her father as well as her truest, most steadfast desires in an immensely satisfying way for the audience. The semi-autobiographical nature of this piece is obvious: it adds a layer of realism to this story.

CAPTION — TRULY AN AWE INSPIRING SHOW

This show is a Speakeysie recommended MUST SEE!! While we endured a flat tire and a late-night Uber ride back home to Hall County, it was worth every minute. The folks at Actor’s Express are some of our favorites, and they tell stories that resonate with their audiences in new and inventive ways. There’s still time to see FUN HOME as it runs until February 16th. For tickets, visit https://www.actors-express.com/plays/fun-home

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