The California Theatre, the North Bay’s newest entertainment venue, hosts Left Edge Theatre’s season-opening production of Fun Home. The musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name took home five Tonys, including Best Musical, for its 2015 Broadway run. The show is scheduled to run through September 18.
Bechdel’s original work, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is a graphic memoir of her childhood and youth, her relationship with her father, and her struggles with her sexual identity. The show, with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, presents itself as if the panes Alison was drawing to illustrate her memoir come to life on stage.
Adult Alison (Emily Jansen-Adan) sits at a drawing board as she attempts to caption the illustrations representing significant moments in her life from childhood through the present. The show is nonlinear, so recollections of Alison as a child (Addison Sandoval) are intermingled with memories of Alison’s time at college (Rae Lipman). Her relationship with her father Bruce (Anthony Martinez) is the thread that connects it all together. Bruce is emotionally unstable due to a lifelong inability to deal with his own sexuality that’s exacerbated when Alison finally becomes comfortable with hers.
More “coming out” than “coming of age” story, Fun Home hits a lot of emotional buttons and director Maureen O’Neill’s cast push those buttons with surprising depth and sincerity of feeling. The three Alisons are all superb, with Sandoval’s delivery of “Ring of Keys” and Lipman’s delivery of “Change My Major” definite highlights. The songs perfectly capture the awakening of sexual identity and the joy of a “morning after”.
The supporting cast is good with Elizabeth Henry doing fine work as a woman coming apart after a lifetime of looking the other way at her husband’s “dalliances”.
Keyboards and percussion by Lucas Sherman and Grant Branham provide the musical support but even just two pieces occasionally overwhelm the vocals, and the lyrics are key for a full appreciation of the show. Adjustments in either sound levels or speaker placement should be considered.
The venue itself shows promise though modifications to turn a former restaurant into a performance space are no-doubt still in the works. At the Sunday matinee I attended, the afternoon sun poured through the glass entryway, reflected off of a cross-room mirror and bathed the audience in light. This “house lights up” environment robbed the show of some of its intimacy.
Technical quibbles aside, Fun Home and The California are both welcome entries to the North Bay theatre scene.
Left Edge Theatre’s ‘Fun Home’ runs through September 18 at The California Theatre. 528 7th Street, Santa Rosa. Thu – Sat, 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $15–$40. Masking optional but encouraged. 707.536.1620. leftedgetheatre.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin