Children often view the world through a fresh lens, buffed with love and optimism and not yet scuffed by others or harsh realities. Even if interpreted with a bit of naïveté, there’s wisdom unbeknownst to us adults, and vice versa. When adults reflect upon their childhoods, new revelations emerge. Alison Bechdel’s graphic-novel memoir “Fun Home” (2006) received much critical acclaim as a humorous yet poignant coming-of-age story, which was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori in 2009.
“Fun Home” revolves around Bechdel’s relationship with her father, Bruce, and her coming out as a lesbian—only to realize Bruce was a closeted homosexual himself (whose extra-marital affairs included underage men). Four months after Bechdel reveals her sexuality, tragedy strikes the family with the untimely death of her father. As the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, director Michael Lauricella is excited to bring the production to life thanks to Panache Theatrical Productions. “Fun Home” will make its premiere just in time for LGBTQIA Pride Month, June 7-17, at The Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre at Thalian Hall.
“We have an amazing cast of women (and men) with very insightful takes on the women they play,” Lauricella tells. “Ultimately, the bigger challenge is playing the real Alison Bechdel as a flawed human and not a cardboard stereotype.”
Going from Bechdel’s childhood to an adult, young Alison is played by Bay Allebach while Cathy Street plays the adult lead. Two other youth actors will take the stage, too, Gabriel Homick and Jakob Gruntfest play Bechdel’s brothers.
“Bay brings a very natural manner to [young] Alison,” Lauricella observes, “a beautiful voice, and a bit of playful stubbornness to the role. Gabe is the comic relief in the family, while Jakob adds a thoughtful take and great vocals.”
While the Broadway musical was staged in the round, Panache’s production will not; however, it will reflect the same intimacy. As well Panache will host a “talk-back session” with the audience during the first Sunday performance.
encore spoke more about “Fun Home” with Lauricella, along with actors Cathy Street and Jamey Stone, the latter of whom plays Bruce Bechdel.
encore (e): What’s everyone’s familiarity with the script?
Michael Lauricella (ML): My husband and I saw the production three times in New York and once in Columbia, South Carolina. Each time we saw new things that were funny or touching.
Cathy Street (CS): I have not seen the show, but I was familiar with the music and had seen a couple of clips. It’s nice to have a reference point but not having seen it gives me the opportunity to . . . start from the ground up. I have spent a lot of time watching Alison Bechdel lectures and interviews to try to get a sense of who she is, and I have read her graphic novel, “Fun Home.” What a luxury to have such amazing insight into her thoughts and feelings right from the book.
Jamey Stone (JS): I was not previously familiar with the show. Once I heard what it was about, I was fascinated. Then I heard the soundtrack, and I fell in love the music. I went online and watched a recording of the Broadway show to get a feel for it. The hardest thing is not being influenced by the choices those actors made. Wanting to create the character of Bruce Bechdel that was true to the script and my research and not overly influenced by the actor who originated the role was something I relied heavily on the Panache creative team for.
e: The production tackles a lot of social and familial issues. In what ways do your characters approach them?
ML: The issues are dealt with in an honest way, but only when Alison becomes of college age. As young children, they are not aware of secrets kept by their parents. (Many of us can relate.) As the actors age, each character has their own moments to deal with these issues.
CS: To me this show is all about communication (and lack thereof in this family). For me, the most powerful scene is one where Alison and her father are in the car together. It is what turns out to be their final chance to talk about everything—finally open up about their lives, find common ground … and they just can’t do it. It is so painful. What might have they done differently if they could have?
JS: There’s places were Bruce is seriously conflicted. It’s like every once in a while, there is a brief flash of understanding in Bruce that his approach or actions are not productive. It seems for a moment he might do the right thing, but he just can’t help himself.
e: Tell us about your characters and how you relate to them—or not.
CS: I grew up in a very open, communicative family as opposed to Alison, but that being said, I think we all have these bits and pieces of memories from growing up. It can be challenging to put them together and remember the context as adults. I can relate to her putting together a jigsaw puzzle and trying to put the pieces into place to make sense of her fragmented memories.
JS: There are things about Bruce’s personality I had to work hard to wrap my head around. No, I don’t know what it’s like to have to hide who you really are from everyone around you and be constantly in fear of being outed.
Other stuff [hit] a bit closer to home. For instance, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less self-centered, more self-aware, and more patient and tolerant of things I can’t control around me. In order to get into Bruce’s head, I had to take all of that last 20 years of personal growth and throw them in the garbage.
e: As the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, is there an added pressure to “get it right,” so to speak?
CS: To me the show is about secrets; a recurring phrase is, “Listen to me.” The reason I think the sexuality is important is because it was a secret for her father, which consumed him, and ultimately made Alison’s coming-out very complicated. I don’t feel a pressure to “get it right” other than the fact I am playing a real person and I want to do her story justice. I just work from a place of finding her truth.
e: How closely do adult actors work with younger actors to develop characters who represent the same person at different times during life?
ML: It has been a joy to see the cast bond as a family throughout rehearsals. They like to sit and talk together, enjoy cookies or laughs. I think it’s imperative for a cast to make connections outside of rehearsals. The true relationships are always reflected in good performances, especially when playing a family or the same person at different stages in life.
CS: I have the luxury of watching my “younger selves” onstage so I can observe their mannerisms, etc., and hopefully create some continuity through them.
JS: They’re pros. It’s amazing to me how seriously they take it and how gifted they are. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from them.
e: Tell us more about the “talk-back” after Sunday’s performance.
CS: I love talk-backs because they are for the audience and go wherever the audience wants them to! It is a chance for them to have a voice and ask questions, make statements and share stories. Theatre should ideally open dialogue—and what a treat to be able to have that dialogue in an interactive format so we can all further share the experience together.
e: Is there anything else you’d like to add about “Fun Home”?
JS: One of the underlying themes I love about the show is the idea that when you look at your parents through adult eyes, everything changes. Things that never made sense start to make sense. Behavioral patterns that seemed arbitrary, pointless, domineering, controlling, confusing, etc. become a little more clear when you realize your parents were products of their environment, era, societal expectations, successes, failures, and sometimes they did the best they could under the circumstances. Or sometimes as parents, frankly, they just pretty much bombed. As an adult, you have to come to terms with that one way or another.