By Florie Rush (Guest Reviewer)
When everyone had taken their seats for Fun Home, one of the directors of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company (SAPAC), Dennis Tamblyn, came onstage to introduce the musical. He described it as “a non-linear show,” which I find is a perfect way to explain the flow of the story. Our main character, Allison Bechdel, played by Erin Anderson, is a comic book author who is writing her life story. This older version of Allison stays on stage the whole time, offering narration when necessary but mostly just watching her memories play out before her. These memories don’t unfold chronologically, but each offers another piece to the puzzle that makes up her life. We see Allison growing up, with her father running a family funeral home (and dealing with struggles of his own), all while trying to figure out who she is and understand her sexuality. She also tries to manage her relationship with her parents and come to terms with the fact that they might not be the “perfect” parents she thought.
Three different actors represent Allison, each at a different time in her life. We have the youngest (Lila Poore), Allison in her freshman year of college (Samantha Beemer), and the aforementioned adult Allison and narrator (Erin Anderson). These three were all wonderful actors and did a beautiful job portraying the same character. It was clear that while it was three different actors, they were playing one person, and that’s no easy task. While each performance was great, I thought that Samantha Beemer stood out above the rest. She was so genuine and had a captivating stage presence. Beemer perfectly encapsulated the struggle and awkwardness of figuring out who you are and coming into your sexuality, but also the giddiness and relief when you finally do start to understand yourself. When she was on stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.
The siblings, played by Sadie Aubry and Sylas Smith, were lots of fun and had solos that got the audience laughing and clapping along. There was a great dynamic between the actors who played Bruce Bechdel (Matthew Holter) and Helen Bechdel (Liz Cracchiolo), Allison’s parents. They played off each other really well and were talented scene partners. However, Bruce Bechdel (Matthew Holter) fell a little flat to me. I wasn’t sure if he was intentionally aiming for subtle and ambivalent, but I was left confused about exactly what he was trying to convey. Perhaps this was a conscious acting and directional decision, leaving the character up for the audience’s interpretation, but I personally would have liked to see more specific, overt choices in the delivery of his character.
The lighting and set was simple, but really supported and elevated the story. The lighting designer (Christoper Mason) and the set designer (Mike Muirhead) worked together to create a hazy atmosphere with orange lights and a fog machine to represent that this is all Allison’s memories, and the haziness that comes along with memory. There was also a screen in the back that would show projected images of Allison’s comics as she talked about them. It was a nice visual touch. There were also four musicians sitting onstage, playing live for all the song numbers.
SAPAC is a newer theatre to Tucson, only in their fourth season, and they make it clear that one of their goals is to get younger people involved in theatre both as part of productions and as audience members. Based on my experience at Fun Home, they are achieving this very successfully. The cast had several kids and young adults in this show, and the majority of the audience was young adults. In my experience, that’s very rare to see; young people often don’t attend theatre, but this audience had a variety of ages represented, and everyone was engaged and clearly enjoying the show. We all were laughing and cheering, even in the middle of scenes, and left choked up and teary eyed at parts.
Fun Home takes place mostly in the 1970s, but it’s a timeless tale of coming of age and discovering who you are, even if that goes against what you were taught to believe. It’s about questioning what’s “right” and “wrong,” and if you’re being true to yourself and not hurting anyone, how can that be wrong? This show portrays a lot of powerful messages that people of all ages can relate to, and they certainly did show up to listen. Director Tyler Wright did a wonderful job tackling this play especially since it’s his directorial debut! It’s important representation for the LGBTQ+ community, and I’m very happy to see shows like this being put on in Tucson, and to see that the types of people attending theatre are expanding.
I really enjoyed seeing Fun Home, and as a young member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was wonderful to see that representation on stage, and to relate to parts of Allison’s journey. However, I feel that people of any age and people who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community will enjoy this show, and find aspects of it relatable. I would strongly recommend going to see it if you get the chance.
Fun Home runs through August 14. For tickets, please visit https://www.sapactucson.org/tickets. Please contact SAPAC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-594-4895 with questions or for more information.