Giving Tree Theater — through July 2
Theater is amazing for so many reasons. You couldn’t count them on your fingers and toes, the fingers and toes of your neighbors and the fingers and toes of their neighbors, because it’s so very personal. And when theatre is done well, there might not seem enough digits in all the world to count the intricacies of the complex, unique and unforgettable reaction you’re left with.
It is like this with Giving Tree Theater’s production of Fun Home, which opened Friday and runs through July 2.
While the story played out is centered around the relationship author Alison Bechdel had with her father, this show is also about details: the things you can hold in your hand that fill in the gaps, trigger the memories. A sleeping bag reminds of a specific emotion; a fear or a hope. A pair of scissors carries the weight of an elephant. A delivery woman, recognized by a young girl, evokes a connection not understood until much later in life. A tray of sherry and ornate glasses, arranged just so, become the hallmark of a life lived on the surface. Something you can touch, hold — but not necessarily feel.
While in college, Bechdel — whose graphic memoir was adapted into the musical by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) — came out. Quickly thereafter, her father was outed. Her parents were about to embark on a divorce. And then he jumped in front of a truck.
I knew very little about the show before going. I’d heard perhaps one song — the songs were all about details, by the way (well, most of them): a book, a teapot, a telephone wire. Putting those details to music, singing with such heart, made it unlike any musical I’ve seen. In Alison Bechdel’s detail oriented existence, brought to life in an old movie house in Marion, I am able to get an emotional glimpse of what she might have been feeling, but the feelings maintain an obscurity, a namelessness. It is utterly human and connective.
The way the Bechdel family communicates with each other is as superficial as their home is ornate. It’s cerebral, performative, quiet, morbidly hilarious, disconnected, adoring. The house seems as if it must have been fantastical. Full of many impressive things, yet empty of that which truly defines “home.” And, underlying, a bubbling river of confusion, frustration and love that runs under every oppressive and historically accurate inch of the home, eventually landing on a comic book page; now professed to us live.
Memory is very personal. It’s intimate and jarring and hilarious. The close quarters of the Giving Tree space, the simple piano, the thrust configuration of the stage and the extraordinary talent upon it are exactly what’s needed to communicate this story to each of us in the audience.
Each Alison — Traci Rezabek, Lauren Galliart, Abby Zeets — is engaging, present and unflinchingly honest. They match each other extremely well. It’s easy to believe that each of them are the same person at different points of Alison’s life continuum. Everyone on stage are committed, and it is clear they are happy as clams to be a part of this group of storytellers.
And the singing is so well done — appropriate and full and beautiful to listen to.
You can feel the importance of this story to the directing team (Sarah Anderson, Heather Akers, Emma Drtina). The choices are both complex and minimal, each one made wholly in service of this show. No frills. No distractions — just telling the best possible story. I was seated in an area that didn’t have great sight lines for a good portion of the show, but the shadow that cast was in the peripheral of a theatrical experience adhering to the potential of the art form.
In the show, Alison relives her youth while she is creating the tragicomic upon which the musical is based. We see her caption family tableaux. Make realizations. Insert herself in important moments, imagining an alternative ending. She sees the different versions of herself so clearly, and by the time we get to the end, Alison is able to truly incorporate them into her current state. We see her remember and we see her reconnect to herself. It is such a feat.
While the performances range from wonderful to stellar, the directorial and production choices on point, what I’m left with is the drive home. My date and I mused about how we feel like we can barely remember a decade ago, let alone enough chunks of our upbringing to spin an engaging story around. But that’s when it became clear: Alison Bechdel’s story shines a light on how essential all our stories are. Remembering those things which create the person we end up becoming. The ability to understand the people we love so dearly and despise so completely. Coming to grips with our past, becoming honest about our present and forgiving ourselves for the moments we’ve lost.
We are each so complex, unique and unforgettable. And for all the memories we flex the muscles in our brain to grasp back from the void, we are reminded of this.
Giving Tree’s Fun Home helped to remind me of all of this.
When she was 36, my mother was carded when buying wine, and brought home dozens of roses to celebrate. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he kicked the old pumpkin on our porch he was convinced would have been rotten, broke his toe and laughed uproariously at the irony. The humidity at my sister’s graduation convinced her thick, wavy hair to curl to perfection. Her smile under those shiny dark curls is imprinted in my mind — it seemed indicative of the knowledge that life was full of endless possibilities. My best friend in high school used to write me little notes and I found a few stragglers in my early twenties. I’ve never been able to understand that kind of generosity, but I am eternally grateful for it.
Now it’s your turn.
Fun Home runs through Sunday, July 2, with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-30.