Wednesday, February 20, 2019

REVIEW: Fun Home @ Baltimore's Center Stage

Review of the Sunday, February 17, 2019 matinee performance at Center Stage in Baltimore, Maryland. Starring Laura Darrell, Michelle Dawson, Jeffry Denman, Liam Hamilton, Justin Gregory Lopez, Molly Lyons, Jon Martens, Andrea Prestinario and Shannon Tyo. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Scenic design by Scott Bradley. Costume design by Karen Perry. Lighting design by Xavier Pierce. Sound design by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts. Projection design by Hana S. Kim. Choreography by Jaclyn Miller. Direction by Hana S. Sharif. 1 hour, 40 minutes, with no intermission. This production will close on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

Grade: A+

Fun Home at Baltimore's Center Stage is wonderful in every respect. It's just that simple. Under Hana S. Sharif's poignant direction, this trip to Pennsylvania is decidedly more robust and intense than any version I've seen before. Think hybrid of the Public Theater premiere and the Broadway version, plus an urgency heretofore un-mined. There were also some nice new laughs and some new heartbreaking moments as well. Sharif's use of juxtaposition not only makes excellent use of the large thrust stage, but in adding visual meaning to the themes of the show.

The scenic and lighting design, by Scott Bradley and Xavier Pierce respectively, features sliding set pieces, props that come out of the floor, and a back wall covered with giant picture frames around projection screens, along with focused pools of light. The combination suits the space well, and goes miles toward showing us Alison's memories that are both crystal clear and fuzzy glimmers. Karen Perry's costumes get the job done, and Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts' sound design was vibrant. The real technical star of the show, however, is the projection design of Hana S. Kim. It is beautifully evocative, and the use of color and black and white is interesting, and the animation of the letters reveals a lot about the writer's state of mind at the time. But there are two times where it is truly superlative. During "Maps," as Alison is drawing and later describing the map, it appears on the wall behind her and on the floor, and it interacts with her. Very cool! And at the end, during the finale, Bechdel's actual drawings appear on the screens, with final "airplane" image not just appearing, but being drawn on the wall. It was terrific to see.

The cast is just as terrific. In multiple small roles, Justin Gregory Lopez makes a great impression, particularly in "Raincoat of Love," where he nails that 70's/Partridge Family kitschy vibe. Important to the story (and one of the show's key songs) is Joan, here played with low-key confidence by Shannon Tyo. It is clear from Tyo's performance what makes Joan such a key figure in Alison's life. And the boys who play Alison's brothers, Liam Hamilton and Jon Martens, are charming - their rendition of "Come to the Fun Home" was a delight, made all the better by their clear enunciation.

Every actress who takes on the role of Helen Bechdel does it differently, of course, but Michelle Dawson's take is really different in its level of attack. As her hurt and rage (and fear and pain, for that matter) grow, you can really see it, especially in her eyes. Everything builds to an explosive and harsh "Days and Days," which comes off like an aria. It works. And it makes her line to Medium Alison about not coming back even more meaningful.

Jeffry Denman is the third person I've seen play Bruce Bechdel, and he may be the scariest of all. The conflict Alison feels about how she sees her father parallels my reaction to Mr. Denman: I wanted to like him, to see he good qualities, and I wanted to understand why he does what he does. I think that's key to understanding the show. But this portrayal is somehow more graphic in its insidiousness, and sexuality. The lust in his face toward his gardener and his former student is chilling. And his cruel manipulation of his family is frightening. Yet, somehow, impossibly, he makes us feel almost sorry for him, right up to the last moments when he shares a last car ride with his grown daughter. Bravo.

Since the the trio of actresses playing Alison make or break Fun Home, it is indeed great news that this production has three amazing women more than up to the task. Andrea Prestinario is a wonderful singer, and even better observer. Watching her watch the action was a master class in being present - particularly as she was watching "Changing My Major." Speaking of that number, I have to say that Laura Darrell's rendition of this crowd-pleaser was easily the funniest I've ever seen - funniest, sweetest and most satisfying. While I doubt I'll ever be as taken by Young Alison as I was with Sydney Lucas, Molly Lyons sure gives the Tony nominee a run for her money. There is a droll adult air to her that is utterly charming, and a sweet childlike innocence that makes you ache when you watch her desperation for her father's affections. "Ring of Keys" is a showstopper in her hands.

I wish I had seen this earlier in its run, because this is one Fun Home I'd like to visit again.

(Photos by B. Geenen)


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...