Thursday, 18 April 2019 14:06

Trio of Alisons Tries To Comprehend Relationship With Father In 'Fun Home'

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Childhood memory -- Adult Alison (left), played by Michaela Buckley, contemplates a memory of her young self, Small Alison (in casket) making up an antic commercial with her brothers, Christian (Eliana Horning, with funeral flag) and John (Ajsa Mehmedovic) in the SUNY Oswego theatre and music departments' spring musical, "Fun Home," opening at 7:30 Thursday, April 25, in Waterman Theatre. Childhood memory -- Adult Alison (left), played by Michaela Buckley, contemplates a memory of her young self, Small Alison (in casket) making up an antic commercial with her brothers, Christian (Eliana Horning, with funeral flag) and John (Ajsa Mehmedovic) in the SUNY Oswego theatre and music departments' spring musical, "Fun Home," opening at 7:30 Thursday, April 25, in Waterman Theatre. Submitted photo

It takes three Alisons to interrogate a lifetime of memories of one brilliant, complex, self-destructive, but ultimately loving father in the SUNY Oswego theatre and music departments' soon-to-open spring musical, "Fun Home."

"Fun Home" will preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25. It will open at 7:30 p.m. April 26 and run at 7:30 p.m. April 27 and May 4, with a finale at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5. All performances will take place in Waterman Theatre of Tyler Hall.

Adapted from cartoonist and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel's 2006 memoir, titled "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic," the memory play stars Douglas Woolever as Bruce, the father of Small Alison (Rachel Leotta), Medium Alison (Helena Buttons) and the observant, constantly sketching Alison as a 43-year-old adult, played by Michaela Buckley.

"The three of us worked together on creating similar mannerisms, so that we are one person in the show," said Buttons, a freshman double major in English and in communication and social interaction who plays Alison as a 20-year-old in college.

"She deals with the same issues her whole life, but in different ways," said Leotta, a sophomore theatre major portraying Alison at age 9.

The issues -- though they are deep, the musical is hilarious at times -- center on her relationship with Bruce, his sexual orientation and, ultimately, her own.

"I do have lines, but very little dialog throughout the show," said Buckley, a sophomore theatre major. "The whole show is my memories. … I'm looking through a lens of my younger selves."

'Complicated relationship'

All three actors credited their mentors, director Jonel Langenfeld and musical director Alan Martin, with helping them achieve the subtleties that differentiate -- yet finally define -- Alison as an adult.

Small Alison grew up, as did the real Alison Bechdel, playing in and helping with a funeral home, nicknamed "fun home." She and her brothers, John (Ajsa Mehmedovic/Sarah Thorson) and Christian (Eliana Horning) all play together; at one point they put together an antic commercial for the fun home. But there are interludes exposing an understory beneath the canopy of childhood memory, as Small Alison takes early steps toward gender self-expression.

"She's a very smart child," Leotta says of Small Alison. "She perceives a lot of what's going on, but she doesn't confront it. She's very much a people pleaser."

Langenfeld urged Leotta to notice how children live and play -- they are in constant motion, often as little satellites erratically orbiting their father and mother (Helena, played by Remington). A babysitter, Roy (Sean Ryan) enters the scene; he turns out to be an English student of Bruce's.

"Small Alison wants to dress in boys' clothing and run around and get dirty, just like her brothers do," said Leotta, noting that Bruce disapproved, for reasons that reveal themselves over the course of the play. "Alison has a complicated relationship with her father. He can be somewhat abusive and very manipulative with his words."

Flash forward to Medium Alison at Oberlin for college, conflicted about her sexual orientation and discovering that Roy was more than a student and babysitter for Bruce.

"One of the first times you see me (on stage), I'm trying to enter the Gay Union door and saying to myself, 'Please don't let me be a lesbian,'" Buttons said.

Yet come out she does, joyfully expressing her feelings for Joan (Katy Hartzell). The play turns on Medium Alison's revelation to her parents of her sexual identity.

Rich experience

All three Alisons have reveled in the experience of developing the musical, which was a Tony Award winner during its 2015-16 run on Broadway, with a book by Lisa Kron and a score composed by Jeanine Tesori.

"It's really an intimate experience, so we all are really close and genuinely care about each other," Buttons said.

"I love our (theatre) department," Buckley said. "It's a small department, but all of the faculty are really good at what they do, and they really do care about each of us."

For more information, visit the show's dramaturgy hub -- https://sites.google.com/oswego.edu/funhomehub/ -- which includes an at-a-glance page. The musical includes frank discussion of suicide, human sexuality and suggestive content, and simulated instances of a car accident. There will be a post-show talkback.

Tickets for "Fun Home" are $15 ($5 for SUNY Oswego students) and are available at SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-3073. All tickets for the preview are $5.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket and is available in the employee lot in front of Culkin Hall and the employee and commuter lots behind Hart and Funelle residence halls. People with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-3073 prior to a performance.

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