My Pulp review of Encore Theatre’s ‘Fun Home’

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Sarah Stevens and Dan Cooney in Encore Theatre’s “Fun Home.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

When I first read Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home — the basis for a Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, now on stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre — I immediately sent copies of the book out to my three closest girlfriends.

It wasn’t Christmas or anyone’s birthday, but I couldn’t contain myself. Bechdel’s groundbreaking, bracingly candid, and bittersweet chronicle of a family tragedy gripped me so profoundly that my first, undeniable impulse was to share her story with others.

The stage musical adaptation — with music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Michigan’s own Lisa Kron — necessarily pares Bechdel’s tale down to its essentials, but it’s no less poignant while depicting Bechdel’s gleeful, college-age “coming out” and, shortly thereafter, her closeted father’s sudden suicide.

At Encore, Sarah B. Stevens plays the always-on-stage, present-day version of Bechdel, who’s struggling to sketch out and narrate her family’s history. (The “Fun Home” of the title is the nickname Alison and her younger brothers had as kids for the funeral home that has long been the Bechdels’ “family business.”) As she draws, she remembers various moments from her childhood and college days as they play out in front of her, until she finally can’t resist inserting her present-day self into the last late-night drive she ever took with her father (Daniel C. Cooney), urging herself to say something that will alter the course of what’s about to happen.

Fun Home, while moving, poses some significant production challenges for director Vincent J. Cardinal and his Encore team. With an intermission-less run-time of just 90 minutes, the memory-driven musical requires numerous scene changes, given its lightning-quick jumps in time and place. At Encore, some of these changes are more awkward and clunky than others, and one of Alison’s flights of imagination as a child — an escapist, groovy Partridge Family fantasy — felt pretty murky in its transition from the family’s dark reality.

Even so, there are goosebump moments in Encore’s show, particularly surrounding the triumvirate of actresses who play Alison at different ages. Stevens’ reactions to watching her younger self are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — and that the actress must do this continuously, while sidelined during much of the show, is no small feat of acting. Plus, her self-flagellating, achingly restrained performance of “Telephone Wire,” in the show’s tensest scene moment, perfectly captures Bechdel’s helplessness in the face of certain, crushing knowledge. READ THE REST HERE

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