When Ken Washington saw the irreverent, emotionally penetrating musical “Fun Home” at New York’s Public Theater in 2014, he never dreamed it would make it to Broadway. Now the director of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center has brought the Tony Award-winning show based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel to the theater for its Long Island premiere.
“It’s a musical that asks questions. It’s very textured,” says Washington of the stage rendition of the lesbian cartoonist’s account of her struggle to make sense of her past, particularly her relationship with her father. “It’s a rich and layered piece exploring identity, one’s view of themselves and of their place in the world.”
With book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and moving music by composer Jeanine Tesori, “Fun Home” — the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the family’s funeral parlor business and a sly nod to their relational dysfunction — moves back and forth in time. In the show, which won five Tonys including best musical, book and score, three actresses of different ages play Bechdel. She reconstructs her own sexual awakening and reflects on the recent knowledge she learned about her father, Bruce (played by Dennis Creighton), a closeted gay man, as well as on his death, arguably by suicide. “I'd been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy,” she writes.
“When we shape our theater season, we consider what our audience is looking for, but also what touches us,” says Washington of the unconventional choice. The musical, he adds, resonated with his firsthand observation when he went off to college in the early 1970s and saw how difficult it was for many of his peers to be true to their identities. “I realized there was more to the world than what I knew in the Long Island hamlet I grew up in.”
The cast of professional actors in the Smithtown production reconstructs poignant and often comical scenes the older Alison recalls while working on her graphic memoir, mirroring its episodic structure. Subtle changes in lighting, props and costumes signal shifts in her journey. “Fundamentally, the action takes place in her home,” notes Washington, that is, in the Victorian family residence her father obsessively renovates, in her dorm room at Oberlin College, and in her studio where she works out her graphic novel.
Beyond a coming-out tale, Bechdel’s darkly funny and honest examination of her life reveals how our perceptions of the people most important to us change with time. “Recognizing our parents through a different prism makes ‘Fun Home’ universal,” says Washington. “It will touch anyone who comes to see it.”
Dancing as fast as they can
WHAT The power of dance to shine a light on the issue of accepting others is at the core of "When Change Comes: A Movement Forward," directed by Mark Stuart. Members of the Wantagh native's Mark Stuart Dance Theatre show off their moves in three love stories set against the backdrops of the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement and the modern LGBT movement. The show features seven dancers, three vocalists and a five-piece band with special guests -- Laura Osnes (Broadway's "Bandstand") and Dan DeLuca ("Newsies" national tour) on Friday and Adam Kaplan (Broadway's "A Bronx Tale") on Saturday.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
INFO $35-$45; 516-323-4444 , madisontheatreny.org
WHAT "Fun Home"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, runs Sept. 8-Oct. 20, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.
INFO $25-$38; 631-724-3700, smithtownpac.org