A Cartoonist Unpacks Her Family Secrets in Out of the Box’s “Fun Home”
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m Sundays, through April 14
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo upstairs
Cost: $35 – $20
Information: (805) 963-0408 or www.centerstagetheater.org
The “Fun” in the title of “Fun Home,” the Tony-winning musical opening tonight at Center Stage Theater, is short for “funeral.” That’s the nickname for the Bechdel family business in this story that is equal parts about evolution and birth and loss and mortality. It’s also a story of coming out and coming to terms with a father’s dark past.
The graphic novel artist Alison Bechdel may not be familiar to many people, but the “Bechdel Test” — whether two women characters in a film talk about anything other than the men in their life–has become a well known criteria among critics. That sprung from her decades long LGBTQ-strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” but for “Fun Home,” Bechdel wrote about her own family and upbringing. The 2006 novel earned nominations and prizes; Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical won five Tony awards in 2015, including Best Musical.
Ms. Kron and Ms. Tesori’s musical is more meta than the book — the framing device shows the adult Alison (Aileen Marie Scott) as she creates the novel, along with 10- and 17-year-old versions of herself that pop up in the various memories she weaves into the story.
Samantha Eve’s Out of the Box productions tend toward adult themes and situations, but taking on this particular musical meant that she would be working with a lot of child stage actors for the only the second time. Two are double cast for the role of 10-year-old Alison, and two for the roles of Alison’s brothers.
“The kids have really risen to the occasion,” Ms. Eve says. “You can tell they know this is not a children’s theater company, and they’ve done a really excellent job keeping up (with adult rehearsal times.)”
Through local auditions, Ms. Eve found a cast that could commit and handle the workload. The two young Alisons (Ember Reiter and Hattie Ugoretz) were previously seen in last year’s Amelie
“We knew they’d be fantastic in the show and it’s fun to work with them again,” Ms. Eve says. “They keep saying we need to do more shows with kids. But we’re kind of running out of them.”
Sam Pillow (and his family) just moved here from New York and Eve describes him as a theater kid through and through. (He’s also simultaneously rehearsing for Adderley’s production of “West Side Story”, which should show you his commitment to the arts.) And Henry Challen, who plays the youngest brother, has equally thrown himself into the role.
Rounding out the cast is Deborah Bertling as the mother Helen, Out of the Box regular Rob Grayson as Bruce the father, Mikayla Knight as Joan, Alison’s girlfriend, Paige Mobley as the college age Alison, and Zachary Thompson as Roy.
“There’s been a lot of censorship in theater lately (in the nation)…so I think it’s good to have something that’s out of the box,” Ms. Eve says (with no pun intended.) “I love that we bring stories to the stage that don’t usually get an opportunity to be told.” In fact, when she applied for the performance rights she specially wrote that Santa Barbara deserved to have this story be told here.
“And these are the stories I hope to tell,” she says. “Ones that bring in new viewpoints and start conversations.”
On a lighter note, the adults in the room have been watching their language around the kids — there is a swear jar that has steadily been accumulating cash, and which will get shared among the young cast at the end. At a dollar a swear, the jar is $20 and counting. Says Ms. Eve,
“now they know they’re getting the money, they are on top of us. They are watching everything we say!”