“Fun Home” soars and astounds at EPAC

Cora Siburt, Megan Falasco and Caitlin Paige portray Alison Bechdel at three different ages in “Fun Home” (Photo courtesy of Ephrata Performing Arts Center).

Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

EPAC’s stunning production of the modern musical, “Fun Home” follows real life lesbian cartoonist, Alison Bechdel as she is trying to piece together the moments of her past. This musical is very much a memory play, and Alison’s search for an understanding of her father’s suicide and dysfunctional family is at the very heart of this piece.

Megan Falasco gives a wonderfully thoughtful performance as Adult Alison. As the audience’s guide, Falasco commands the stage with an earnest urgency. The actress’s empathetic facial expressions catch the eye even when the character is just observing an event in her life. Falasco’s dry wit brings nice comedic moments to the very heavy material. Numbers which include the meditative “Maps” has Falasco’s Adult Alison mapping out her entire childhood town of Beech Creek, PA.  The blissful song turns into a stunning extended metaphor on how an environment can shape a life. Falasco delivers this number with refreshing honesty. She also brings crushing vulnerability to the devastating song, “Telephone Wire” which is a chilling piece about words never said to a loved one.  Falasco’s perfectly nuanced performance is rich in its subtleties.

Nick Smith is absolutely haunting as Alison’s loving yet deeply flawed father, Bruce. The character of Bruce is a deeply closeted gay man and is at many times abusive and monstrous to his family. Yet, Smith imbues Bruce with a care that miraculously makes the audience feel a bit of sympathy for this deeply flawed man. Through the actor’s performance, it is inferred that Bruce’s rage comes out of not being able to break free of the façade that he has built for himself. This make’s Smith’s performance of Bruce’s incredibly haunting final moments in the number “Edges of the World” hurt even more. Nick Smith’s performance as Bruce is one that is startlingly complex and yet deeply felt.

Stacia Smith is heartbreaking as Alison’s mother Helen. The character of Helen is suggested to once have had dreams of being an actress. Once married to Bruce, she had to be the provider of her family as her husband went out and had affairs with other men.  Smith’s characterization of Helen is one of great pain and sorrow as the audience see’s at all times the suffering and struggle of the character. Nick Smith’s Bruce alienates the whole family, and the effects the man had on his wife is seen in heart shattering detail through Helen’s brutally raw number “Days and Days”.  Stacia Smith’s performance as Helen is quietly devastating.

Cora Siburt is a revelation as Medium Alison. Siburt’s awkward physical demeanor for Alison’s college self is incredibly specific and yet instantly recognizable.  The actress performs the character’s ode to her new love Joan “Changing my Major” with bright comedic timing and moving inflection as Medium Alison starts to truly come into her own.  Megan Falasco’s reactions to the actions of Siburt’s Medium Alison also draws laughs throughout. Siburt along with having strong comedic moments, shares fine chemistry with Skye Hewish- Schmid’s Joan and is quite affecting in her scenes with Stacia Smith’s Helen.

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Caitlin Paige proves herself to be an extremely strong and capable child actress as Small Alison. Paige handles the challenging material with startlingly maturity and yet never loses the innocence of her character. Paige is excellent through the entire evening, but truly astounds in the breathtaking number “Ring of Keys”. This song’s hopeful message on self-discovery is one that is worth the price of admission alone. Paige’s performance as Small Alison is remarkably nuanced for someone so young. She is absolutely sensational.

Skye Hewish Schmid brings great swagger and empathy to the character of Joan. As Medium Alison’s first love, Joan brings Siburt’s Medium Alison, exactly the support she needs at that time. Hewish-Schmid crafts a character who is intriguing and instantly likable. Although Joan does not have any stand-alone songs, Hewish-Schmid brings great flair to the fantasy sequence “Raincoat of Love”.

Other standouts in the cast include Colin Dilucido as Bruce’s various love interests and John Laube and Conner Moodie as Alison’s mischievous younger brothers, John and Christian. Dilucido has a challenging role as the more questionable subjects of Bruce’s life, but takes on his various characters with complete maturity and honesty.  He brings great excitement leading the happy/sad number “Raincoat of love.”

Much as in the case of Caitlin Paige’s portrayal of Small Alison, John Laube and Conner Moodie very skillfully illustrate the harsh and yet blissful childhood at the Bechdel’s titular funeral home. The childhood whimsy of the family’s funeral home is explored to great comedic effect by Laube, Moodie and Paige in the jubilant showstopper, “Come to the Fun Home.”

The memories of Alison Bechdel’s life are vividly brought to life with brilliant set and lighting design by Jordan Janota and Jeff Cusano. This production is performed in a three quarter thrust fashion, and Janota’s striking set design creates the feeling that the audience is inside Alison’s head. This design concept is further complimented by Cusano’s lighting that ticks every time Alison remembers something of much significance. Janota’s set also makes clever reference to the original graphic novel with panel-like flooring for the stage and a green painted backdrop that much resembles the novel’s front cover. This attention to detail in all creative aspects is simply astounding and brings an authenticity that carries through the entire production.

Last, but certainly not least, Edward R. Fernandez directs this production with a care and sensitivity that is truly inspiring. Jeanine Tesori’s layered score and Lisa Kron’s meticulously crafted book and lyrics makes for a profound piece of theatre that Fernandez gives complete justice to. The development he gets out of all the actors is simply stunning. This is a production where every aspect involved works effortlessly together, and that is a great dedication to the masterful directorial hand of Fernandez.

EPAC’s brilliant production of “Fun Home” is an incredibly moving and intimate night at the theatre. The piece itself is a modern masterpiece that is filled to the brim with meaning and heart. The cast expertly takes on this brilliant new work with verve and excitement. Musicals as profound as this do not come around very often.  Audiences should run not walk to “Fun Home” where they will be rewarded with a universal story on memory and family and a breathtaking and vital piece of musical theatre that is thrillingly unlike no other.