Inspired by Alison Bechdel’s bestselling graphic memoir, the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home is a story about wrestling free from the familial ties that bind. To that end, Theatre Raleigh’s production is a testimonial of how a show can break free from the gaucherie of its predecessors and make its own mark.
The show premiered off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2013 to critical acclaim. A year later, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Local audiences may remember the repellant national tour which ran at the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2016. But to be clear, this is NOT that Fun Home. This is so much better.
While the touring production exploited the complexities of Bechdel’s not-so-typical family quintet indelicately, this Theatre Raleigh production, under the protective eye of Director Tim Seib, cradles the subtleties of her coming-of-age story humanely.
And while Alison is certainly the front woman in this narrative, reverentially portrayed here by Rebecca Clark (Small Alison), Averi Zimmerman (Medium Alison), and Angela Travino (Alison), the key to the success of this show is how the character of Alison’s father, Bruce, is portrayed. Why? Because Bruce is the bedrock for almost every other character’s arc, including Alison’s and that of her mother, Helen, played here by an unfaltering Sarah Smith.
Bruce is a self-proclaimed “bad guy,” and while the audience doesn’t have to condone his actions, they do have to have some sort of understanding of his psyche in order to champion Alison’s evolution. He is the knockdown domino that triggers a non-linear chain of events culminating in Alison’s liberation. This is truly where Theatre Raleigh’s production soars.
Christopher Gurr’s portrayal of Bruce in this production is as solid, perceptive, and insightful as they come. His chemistry with Clark, Travino, and Zimmerman is credible and his angst palpable. He grounds this production with a certain rawness that draws the audience in, rather than leaving them estranged.
Under the masterly baton of music director Joanna Li, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s award-winning score sounds gorgeous. The design elements lend clarity to the flashbacks and nod to Bechdel’s drawings. Theatre Raleigh’s new, expanded space, which offers ample opportunities for social distancing and safety, feels intimate, another element working in this show’s favor.
But it is the authenticity and realness Seib brings to this production that not only makes this Fun Home accessible, but also validates an entire community that has been trivialized, othered, and unseen (particularly in this state) for far too long. And for that reason, this production is significant and just might be canonized as one of the most important works produced locally for many years to come.
The Theatre Raleigh production of Fun Home runs through September 5th. For more information visit https://theatreraleigh.com/.
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