Three versions of cartoonist/author Alison Bechdel star in the Tony-winning musical “Fun Home,” which opened Tuesday at Knight Theater. Each embodies Bechdel at a different age – and all three give captivating turns.
Blumey Award-winning Charlotte actress and Northwest School of the Arts graduate Abby Corrigan has won raves on this national tour as Alison at her most awkward – Medium Alison, a college freshman discovering her homosexuality and simultaneously learning she has more in common with her mysterious father than she imagined.
Corrigan, 19, has the heaviest task as this story unfolds, after starting with a traumatic revelation. Her scenes are some of the funniest – and most heart-wrenching. She not only utters the lines and belts the songs, she also physically looks and behaves as a gangly, self-conscious teen. And she performs her big solo bouncing around in her tighty-whiteys.
Kate Shindle as 43-year-old Alison is at such ease in the role, carrying her Bechdel with such confidence and restraint, you wouldn’t suspect that beneath the cropped haircut, boxy attire and hipster slouch is Miss America 1998.
Carly Gold captures the confusion and energy of Young Alison, whose antics with two young brothers (including a mock commercial for the family’s funeral home – the “Fun Home” of the title) illustrate their quirky childhood’s camaraderie. Gold’s performance of “Ring of Keys” is another emotional pivot, as the girl, whose relationship with her father is growing more strained, finally sees someone she can identify with: a female delivery driver whom adult Alison describes as “old school butch.”
At hom, mom Helen (Susan Moniz) and the children cater to her father’s desire for polish and balance (there’s even a song about it). He’s less violent onstage than in Bechdel’s graphic-novel memoir, the basis for the musical. But between propositioning an underage handyman and bullying his daughter about a school art project, Bruce is not a likable guy, no matter how much he’s struggling with his sexuality.
Yet Robert Petkoff’s handling of the character is more complex than that. Leaving his kids alone sleeping in a friend’s apartment in New York City to troll the streets for action is despicable, but Petkoff makes him more charming and needy than he was on the page. The audience is allowed to dislike him without Alison ever seeming to.
Told in present day through a series of interspersed childhood and freshman-year flashbacks with actors from different eras sometimes sharing the stage and set pieces moving in and out, the production was busier than the intimate, in-the-round Broadway show. I found this less linear format more engaging than the way the story is told in print.
Yes, it’s one of the hipper, more contemporary tours to hit Charlotte, given its themes and its handling of them. And it’s both funny and tragic. It’s also timely despite being set predominantly in the ’70s. Given current social discord, maybe sharing this kind of personal experience can bring a little more depth and empathy to our conversation.