At National Theatre, the 2015 Tony-Award winning play "Fun Home," now on tour after a Broadway run is a kaleidoscope of memories and colors, derived from the graphic novel by the same name.
Composed by Jeanine Tesori and lyricist/librettist Lisa Kron, the story brings to life Alison Bechdel's non-linear memoir about her childhood fantasies, her first experiences coming out as a college student, and her father's closeted gay affairs that eventually lead to his suicide.
The story includes three very different actresses playing Alison at different stages in their lives. All three are winning in their different interpretations of the young woman.
Narrating the story is adult Alison (Kate Shindle), who is a cartoonist trying to make meaning of her memories through drawing. She constantly observes and comments on the memories of pre-teen "small Alison" (Alessandra Baldacchino), and college-aged "medium Alison" (Abby Corrigan).
Sings Baldacchino in a voice far more mature than her years, "I want to know what's true/ Dig deep into who/ And what, and why." Her perceptive, sweet, and wise voice provides a vivid bookend to the story, one particularly rich with humor. She dances and romps around the stage, showing how much she embellished her childhood experiences with the addition of TV shows and rock music to create a vivid fantasy life.
She is joined in many of the childhood scenes by her comedic and adorable sidekicks brothers John and Christian (Lennon Nate Hammond and Pierson Salvador). They create humor in their pop-culture fueled dance routines, reimagining the dark moments of their father's work at the family funeral home as a '70s-era kid-rock video.
Small Alison describes with awe and excitement her first awareness of her sexual orientation in the song "Ring of Keys" when she observes a delivery woman and is impressed by her short hair and masculine attire.
Meanwhile Corrigan masters a deadpan humor as the college-aged Allison, who is for the first time willing to discuss her sexual orientation with the woman who becomes her more confident and sophisticated first girlfriend Joan (Karen Eilbacher). Her understated observations about herself are delivered with a lack of self-awareness that is immediately enticing.
She sweetly reacts to her first sexual encounter with Joan by singing a song about how the woman has rocked her world, called "I'm Changing My Major to Joan."
Providing a more somber note, Alison's closeted father Bruce (Robert Petkoff) stifles his own homosexuality and instead focuses his efforts on home renovations and antique refurbishing, he shows the man's desperation and sadness. At times he is warm and connected to his children, but at other moments his self-loathing creates tension with everyone around him.
His long-suffering wife Helen (Susan Moniz) is played with staggering self-restraint as a woman who held in her emotions and her thoughts about her husband's affairs with underage men, until she was too full of rage and sorrow to hide anymore.
Meanwhile, Shindle's restrained performance as the adult Alison provides a constant gaze for the narrator, showing how she has looked endlessly inward and backwards to see who she is and where she has come from.
"Fun Home" runs to May 13 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. For tickets or information, call 202-628-6161 or visit Thenationaldc.org