In Play Reviews

The house on Maple Avenue is a brilliantly restored Victorian, beautiful, perfect inside and out. It’s on the local historic tours. Alison Bechdel’s (Allison Mickelson) father Bruce (Robert Mammana) couldn’t be prouder. He is the one who did the exacting work, who prowled old barns and garage sales with his daughter (Small Alison, Aida Valentine) looking for just the right accessories for his dream house.

Alison Bechdel (Allison Mickelson, left) observes her younger self (Aida Valentine) and her brothers (Karsten George and Theo Curl in Fun Home at Portland Center Stage.

On stage, Alison sits at a drafting table observing, remembering, and depicting the action as those days on Maple Avenue come to life–the funny things that happened as Small Alison and her brothers Christian (Karsten George) and John (Theo Curl) played together in the family mortuary, or ran around the house, before Dad inevitably lost patience.

Fun Home is the ironic title of Alison Bechdel’s best-selling 2006 graphic novel about her coming of age, coming out, and coming to terms with the things life handed her. Now running at Portland Center Stage at the Armory, Fun Home  was transformed by Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) into an exquisitely tender, funny, and probing look at a young woman’s evolution from small child to best-selling author and cartoonist as it relates to her confused and confusing relationship with her father.

Set in the 1970s, there is a lot of meat on this play’s bones. For all the freedom and fun Alison and her brothers have when the parents aren’t watching, there are the repressed feelings of a 1950s home hierarchy, Bruce’s conflicted behavior, his wife Helen’s (Faith Sandberg) bitter acceptance, and the dark cloud of secrets untold. It’s a lot to deal with for Medium Alison (Sara Masterson) as she grows, leaves home for college, and experiences her own dramas and bewilderment with the dawning realization of who she is.

This is a beautifully written play, directed with just the right touch by PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman. Jeannine Tesor’s music isn’t the sort you will find yourself singing in the shower, but it integrates seamlessly with the story. William Bloodgood’s set, with its free-floating panels of Victorian house segments (and open coffins), is stunning.

Fun Home is on stage at the Armory through October 22. Parental discretion is advised.

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  • Rebecca says:

    I thought the play wove together her life with three actors very skillfully.

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