How do you unravel the past? When the people you’re trying to bring back are gone, what’s the best way to breathe life back into them? If you’re an artist, doing so through your art is a time-honored tradition; Alison Bechdel did so with her graphic novel Fun Home, which was then turned into a stunningly affecting musical that Proctors has been able to bring to the area – and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to see it.
Alison (Kate Shindle) is writing a graphic novel about her past, and, more specifically, her father; she left for college, and four months later, he committed suicide. Through flashbacks, we meet her family: her father Bruce (Robert Petkoff), a small-town English teacher and funeral home director whose homosexuality is one of the town’s least well-kept secrets; her mother Helen (Susan Moniz) who has given up a dream of Broadway stardom for a loveless marriage; and Small Alison (Carly Gold) and, later, Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), the author as a child and young adult. Alison works her way through these memories as both narrator and observer, trying to understand what the younger versions of her didn’t and discover why her father made the choices he did.
The dynamic between Petkoff and all three actresses playing Alison was the strongest onstage, and was utterly heartbreaking. Watching this man who’d had to hide (as well he could) his sexuality (as many men – and women – of that generation did) slowly unravel as he aged, then watch his daughter begin the same journey (Alison came out only a month or two before her father committed suicide) was one of the hardest things I’ve seen an actor portray onstage, and Petkoff was so truthful to every moment of it. His inner struggle was so clear and so realistic I was in tears for at least half of the production. Shindle’s performance was brilliant, as well, and she had to dig deep as someone reliving the most painful memories of her life – she’s more than up to the task. Moniz plays her character with wounded pride and pain as well – her life has become hiding her husband’s secrets, and it’s killed her inside, but she still wants the world for her daughter.
The music was beautiful, as well – “Telephone Wire” with Alison and Bruce was a standout, as well as Bruce’s pained solo “Edges of the World;” Corrigan’s “Changing My Major” was both funny and joyous and Gold’s “Ring of Keys” was full of eye-opening discovery.
This show is just perfect in so many ways, showing the love between family members (no matter how fraught and painful it can be at times), the journey through memory and how time changes things, how our parents are never quite people to us until we’re older and the pain and loss we carry with us for a lifetime when we lose someone. It’s one of the best new musicals I’ve seen in a while, and I’ll be carrying its message with me for some time.
Disclosure: Proctors is a partner in The Alt.
“Fun Home”; Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady; October 31 – November 5; $85-$20; Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes; (518) 346-6204; http://www.proctors.org/.