New Village Arts’ ‘Fun Home’ an Emotional Ride

Those unfamiliar with Fun Home may arrive expecting a lighthearted 60s period piece, thanks to the production materials and the title… they’d be wrong. The show, which traverses a series of times and places throughout one woman’s life, is a visceral one, packing an emotional punch on the New Village Arts stage.

The Bechdel family sings and poses for a photo while Alison stands off to the side.

The cast of ‘Fun Home’ at New Village Arts. Photo credit: Daren Scott.

The story, which features music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, is based on the graphic novel by queer cartoonist Alison Bechdel and portrays her experiences as they are captured at three different ages by a trio of talented actors. The audience gets to see as she navigates growing up on thin ice in a fun – that is, funeral – home tenuously near-fractured by her father’s indiscretions and her mother’s attempts to hold it all together. They watch as she moves away to college and blossoms into her queer identity. And they see, ultimately, as she fails to find a way to connect with her father before he is tragically lost to suicide.

Bruce teaches Alison to draw.

Rae Henderson-Gray, Brent Roberts, and Lena Palke in ‘Fun Home.’ Photo credit Daren Scott.

The show, well acted, is led by Rae Henderson-Gray, Priya Richard, and Lena Palke as Alison, Medium Alison, and Small Alison respectively. All performers have standout moments throughout the production. Henderson-Gray’s “Maps” is plaintive and raw, in contrast to Palke’s increasingly joyous and moving “Ring of Keys.” Richard, as Middle Alison, brings the perfect emotional vulnerability and intensity to the stage as the college freshman “exploding” into her new life as she trips through a sexual and romantic awakening with fellow student Joan (played by cooly mature Lisette Velandia). 

The Bechdels clean their home in preparation for guests

The cast of ‘Fun Home’ at New Village Arts. Photo credit: Daren Scott.

It’s important to note that the story, despite following Alison, is really more about Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, portrayed by Brent Roberts. Roberts is intense and manipulative in the part, quick to gaslight, and broken by his inability to genuinely live his life in the authentic way he desires, as a queer man. His abuse extends to his children (Palke as well as Zayden McHardy and Leo Jones as Christian and John), his former students (all played by Kris Bona), and his disillusioned wife (Sarah Alida LeClair), though it becomes apparent over the course of the show that the person who is most broken is, in reality, him. 

Kym Pappas directs this version of Fun Home, told on a simple stage designed by Yi-Chien Lee that is reminiscent of a comic book triptych. Music Direction by Korrie Yamaoka is solid, though at times the sound balance was a bit heavy on the tracks side, which may have made it difficult for some performers to hit their harmonies with perfect accuracy. The show features dance work designed by choreographer Patrick Mayuyu that is well performed if seemingly displaced in the story; this is intentional as dance is often symbolic of a moment of escapism for those in the Bechdel family. Lights and sound for this production were created by Curtis Mueller and Ethan Eldred.

Joan and Alison begin to fall for each other

Lisette Velandia and Priya Richard in ‘Fun Home.’ Photo credit: Daren Scott.

Fun Home isn’t an easy production to watch, but it is an important one: it memorializes the experiences that people hold at their core… small moments that, on the other side, are somehow amplified into powerful memories. It’s a story for the people around us, the people that became us, and the people that we care for. It’s a story that needs to be told and deserves to be seen.

Fun Home runs at New Village Arts through March 3.

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New Village Arts Theatre
2787 State St, Carlsbad CA 92008 USA Work Phone: 760.433.3245 Website: New Village Arts Theatre website
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  1. Steve M. on February 18, 2024 at 7:31 am

    Saw it last night 2/17/24 and thought it was excellent. The strory is very important and the acting was superb. Medium Allison, Priya Richard, nailed it and brought you fully into the story with her funny (beautiful voice) and poignant performance of “major in Joan.”. It was a quick 90 minutes which tells it all. Highly recommended for audiences of all ages.

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