‘Fun Home’ soars with perfection, packs emotional wallop, too

Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
Susannah McLeod as Adult Alison (left) watches Dominick Varney as her father Bruce comfort her younger self, played by Evelyn LaCroix, in Penobscot Theatre Company's Production of "Fun Home."
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Under the direction of Portland Theater Company’s scenic designer, Tricia A. Hobbs, this is a flawless production.
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Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue!

See how we polish and we shine?

We rearrange and realign.

Everything is balanced and serene.

Like chaos never happens if it’s never seen.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s “Fun Home” packs an intellectual and emotional wallop. It is a welcome punch in the solar plexus from Bangor’s only professional theater group that more often than not chooses simply to entertain rather than soar with the perfection this production does.

“Fun Home” is a 90-minute, one-act musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir. It is her coming of age, coming out and dealing-with-her closeted-daddy’s-death story.

In 2012, Lisa Kron, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music, developed the musical “Fun Home” at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab. It premiered off-Broadway the following year and in 2015, moved to Broadway and won five Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Under the direction of PTC’s scenic designer, Tricia A. Hobbs, this is a flawless production. The cast, especially the three actresses who play Alison as a girl, a college student and an adult, is impeccable. The technical designs are delightful and the band, under the direction of David John Madore, is wonderful.

Hobbs has forged an ensemble that looks, sounds and feels like a family — a flawed one — but a family nonetheless. She perfectly paces the show, so that even though theatergoers know how the story ends, it still delivers a powerful punch that will leave anyone who has lost a parent in tears.

Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
The cast of the musical "Fun Home" performs at the Bangor Opera House in Penobscot Theatre Company's last show of the season.

Dominick Varney, a regular performer and director at PTC and Winterport Open Stage, gives the best performance of his career as Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s tortured, yet loving father. PTC’s familiar funny man is nowhere in sight.

Varney wears Bruce’s pain and anguish beneath the Victorian veneer of the perfect home he is constantly decorating like a hairshirt. It all bursts out in his final song that Varney achingly delivers: “Something’s cracking. Something’s rotting. Piles of ruin and debris. Killing me, crushing me, pushing me!”

And then there is Megan Marod’s Helen Bechdel, mother to Alison and her two younger brothers, wife of Bruce and keeper of the chaos. Helen’s deep disappointment in how her life has turned out envelops Marod in a shroud of loneliness and despair. The actress bursts out of it in Helen’s solo about motherhood “Days and Days” that includes the line: “And no one clocks the day you disappear.” Marod’s portrayal is heartbreakingly real.

Evelyn LaCroix, Lana Sabbagh and Susannah McLeod as small, medium and adult Alison, respectively, create a distinct and separate individual yet somehow manage to convey they all are one person. It is a difficult feat to pull off but, under Hobbs’ guidance, they do it masterfully.

Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
Magnus Stark | Penobscot Theatre Company
Susannah McLeod as cartoonist Alison Bechdel remembers events from her childhood as her work is projected on the set of Penobscot Theatre Company's "Fun Home."

LaCroix’s desire to fly turns into Sabbagh’s eagerness to embrace her sexuality that evolves into McLeod’s need to lay bare her family’s truth in her graphic novel. LaCroix and Sabbagh are especially good in Alison’s confrontations with her father. Every parent will recognize these arguments and the pull of a child toward independence.

LaCroix gives great depth and longing to the song, “Ring of Keys,” where Alison remembers her first attraction to a woman. “Your swagger and your bearing and the just right clothes you’re wearing,” she sings. “Your short hair and your dungarees and your lace up boots. And your keys, oh, your ring of keys.” The 11-year-old gives a moving and powerful performance.

The rest of the cast, Luka Bogolyubov, Cuthbert Steadman, Cameron Wright and Emma Howard, is equally fine as are the musicians.

Hobbs’ set that includes sections on which Bechdel’s drawings are projected. Scout Hough’s lighting, Kevin Koski’s costumes and Sean McGinley’s sound magically complete the director’s vision for the show.

“Fun Home” long will be remembered as the best production mounted under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport, whose choices rarely challenge her audiences. To borrow a line from Alison Bechdel that sums up Newport’s tenure so far: “Every so often there was a rare moment of perfect balance when I soared above him.”

“Fun Home” will be performed through May 12. For information, call 942-3333 pr visit penobscottheatre.org.

 



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