SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s a story of processing your past.
The Tony Award-winning, based-on-a-true story musical “Fun Home” will be staged at Santa Fe Playhouse starting this week.
The coming-of-age story follows real-life cartoonist Alison Bechdel as she is writing her real-life graphic memoir, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” published in 2006. Audience members may also know Bechdel as the creator of the Bechdel test, which measures the representation of women in books and movies.
With flashbacks from the fortysomething Alison, the show goes back to and between Small Alison, around the age of 10, and Medium Alison, in her late teens.
The audience watches as, throughout her childhood and adolescence, Alison discovers her own sexuality and identity as a lesbian. At the same time, she’s reflecting on her complicated relationship with her gay father.
“When I first read it, I thought it was a story of coming of age, the coming into her sexuality,” said director Vaughn Irving. “And after working on it for a while, I came to terms with the fact that I think it’s about dealing with your past, really acknowledging the past, and the things you’ve deliberately forgotten, and the things you don’t know how to process as a adult.”
As a young child, the audience sees Small Alison navigating her relationship with her family and the fact that she does not want to conform to feminine stereotypes.
“She doesn’t want to wear a dress, she doesn’t want to do these things,” Irving said. “And dad … can’t deal with it. (He) doesn’t know how to deal with his daughter, and she doesn’t to try and fit in the way he has.”
“We also see college-age Alison when she’s gone off to school and come into her own as a lesbian woman, and the way that her relationship with her family, and specifically her father, evolves at that moment, where she’s finally out of the nest and is able to say, ‘I’m making my own decisions and doing things my way,’ ” Irving added.
During her college years, Alison has to deal with her parents, particularly her dad, not being able to accept her coming out.
“The audience knows right from the beginning that her father is dealing with his own issues with sexuality, and that’s something Alison can’t really see, and emotionally she’s feeling really hurt and really angry,” said Nadine Pineda, the local actress playing Medium Alison. “That’s where Big Alison gets to come in, and try to fix and reflect back on.”
Though many of the storylines are heavy, Irving said the musical also has incredibly light, comedic moments.
There are upbeat musical numbers that take inspiration from groups like the Jackson 5 and the Partridge Family, reflecting Alison’s tendency as a child to seek solace from her home life in the TV.
One of the songs, “Welcome to the Fun Home,” is a song for an imaginary commercial Alison and her siblings come up with for the family’s funeral home (the kids call it the Fun Home, giving the book and musical its title). “Raincoat of Love,” inspired by old Partridge Family tunes, drowns out a parental argument during the main character’s younger years.
“It’s definitely bring your tissues, or else we’ll sell them to you before the show, but there’s such hilarious and heartwarming moments of this play, as well,” said Irving.
Though the LGBT storyline and representation is groundbreaking for a mainstream musical, Irving added that “Fun Home” also has a more general message of what it means to feel like an outcast. Actors Pineda and Brent Black, who plays father Bruce Bechdel, added that, above all, this is a story about family and the struggles of dealing with the dynamics within family relationships.
“The relationship between a child and a parental figure is the most unique, crazy, complicated relationship in existence, and I think that’s what this show really shows,” said Pineda.
The show also stars Charlotte Carter, MJ Sea, Karen Ryan, Teagan Boyes-Wetzel, Michael Blessing, Koppany Pusztai and Mariah Olesen. Shows start on Thursday with the Playhouse’s preview and continue until June 30.