Elmwood Playhouse’s “Fun Home” soars in triumph for local theatre

As a champion of Rockland theatre, I am inclined to share that Nyack’s Elmwood Playhouse’s fourth show of the 2023-2024 season— Lisa Kron’s memory-musical “Fun Home”— wins the status of required viewing for locals.

While the community-based playhouse has turned out other fabulous shows this past year, including Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” and John Patrick Shanley’s “Italian American Reconciliation,” there is something particularly magical about Elmwood’s production of “Fun Home.”

Based on the graphic memoir of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, this musical coming-of-age story follows 43-year-old Alison (Amanda Montgomery) as she steps back in time to examine her journey of coming out in the 1970s: a process which may or may not be linked—but certainly intersects—with her funeral-director father Bruce’s (Chad Paul Hudson) efforts to hide his own true sexual orientation, leading to his eventual self-inflicted demise.

With the help of younger selves Young and Medium Alison (Amelia Carroll/Margot Moore and Jordyn David), along with the perspective of long-suffering mother Helen (Miran Robarts), Alison grapples with the role her identity may have played in her father’s story, eventually finding a sense of hope in the role he played in hers.

Set in the round with chairs bordering three sides of the stage, Elmwood audience members of “Fun Home” are given a front-row seat to immerse themselves in the past lives of the Bechdels.

Through the eldest Alison’s eyes, we see a family (including Young Alison’s brothers John and Christian, adorably played by Moses Shapiro, Geoffrey Wasserman, and Evan Kirby) hustling to fill the unmeetable needs of its order-obsessed patriarch—a home where “chaos never happens if it’s never seen.”

Quickness, if not chaos, is the name of the game in this Tony-award winning dramedy. In this production deftly directed by Claudia Stefany, set pieces initially comprising the funeral home (“Fun Home,” get it?) where the Bechdels live routinely fly in and out of the staging area, creating the illusion of other locations in Alison’s Pennsylvania town where important events take place.

Songs bleed into scenes and vice versa, their boisterousness and intensity so great that for a lesser group of actors, it would hardly allow the audience a moment of air. However, this spectacular Elmwood cast—including Medium Alison’s love interest Joan (Jenna Cooperman) and a one-man stand-in for an array of Bruce’s lovers (Tyler Mell)—rise to the challenge, breathing life into a difficult score and subject matter with humor, heart, and ease.

There are several ‘wow’ moments that are too special to spoil, but I can say this: by the time Alison sits in the car with her father for the song “Telephone Wire,” knowing it will be the last ride they ever share yet doubly ravenous for the words to change the pair’s circumstances, you will not hear a breath in the house.

Support Rockland theatre and come see Elmwood Playhouse’s “Fun Home,” now running Thursday, March 21 through Saturday, April 13. Tickets can be found on elmwoodplayhouse.com.

Alison and Young Alison

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