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Review: CdA Playhouse cast brings heart to thought-provoking ‘Fun Home’

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 21, 2020

From top, Ruby Krajic, Olivia Davis and Ann Benson, who star as Small Alison, Medium Alison and Alison Bechdel, in Lake City Playhouse’s “Fun Home.” (Phil Corless)
From top, Ruby Krajic, Olivia Davis and Ann Benson, who star as Small Alison, Medium Alison and Alison Bechdel, in Lake City Playhouse’s “Fun Home.” (Phil Corless)

As I walked out of Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene on Saturday night, I read a text from a friend. He’d always wanted to see “Fun Home,” the Tony-winning Broadway musical based on the memoir of cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

Was it worth it, he wondered, to drive to Coeur d’Alene to see a community theater production, or should he wait for a professional troupe to bring the show to town?

I quickly texted back: Yes, make the drive. It will be worth it. Not because the playhouse’s production is perfect. It’s rough around the edges. But the cast puts so much heart into “Fun Home,” and the show itself is rather remarkable, that any miscues are forgivable.

Bechdel’s memoir tells the story of her life, in cartoon form, as the firstborn child of Bruce and Helen Bechdel. They live in a small Pennsylvania town where Bruce teaches English, restores old houses and runs the family business, a funeral home – nicknamed the “fun home” by Alison and her brothers.

Her father is fastidious and exacting and secretly gay – and prone to assignations with everyone from the family babysitter, Roy, to his high school students.

The story also is about Alison, her own coming out, and how she was shaped by her family dynamics, all told by three different versions of herself. There’s the Alison in her 40s, played by Ann Benson, who dives deep into her memories as she begins work on her book.

There’s Medium Alison, played by Olivia Davies, who is a young woman in college beginning to figure out who she is as her own family dynamics unravel.

Then there’s Small Alison, as portrayed by Ruby Krajic, who loves her father but struggles with his mood swings while also chafing at his expectations of what girls should be like.

The “Fun Home” plot advances in a disjointed way as Alison pieces together the story of her life. She stands to the side as Small Alison and her father, played by Josh Koester, play her favorite game, airplane, her stomach resting on her father’s feet as she pretends to soar in the sky.

She watches, with a bemused look on her face, as Medium Alison finds her first love with Joan (Simon Daly) while away at college. Adult Alison interacts with the other two and her family members throughout the show, but when the three come together for “Flying Away (Finale),” it’s a beautiful moment.

It’s a show that hinges on the talents of the three Alisons, and, thankfully, they deliver. Benson, a mezzo-soprano who has performed with Inland Northwest Opera and the Spokane Symphony, brings calm confidence to her Alison in numbers such as “I Leapt Out of the Closet,” “Helen’s Etude” and “Maps.”

Davies is especially appealing as Medium Alison. She is goofy and enthusiastic and so believable. Her singing is strong, too, especially during “Changing My Major” and “Thanks for the Care Package.”

Krajic, whose stage credits include Aspire Community Theater and Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and the lead in “Annie” at the playhouse, is no slouch, either.

She’s utterly endearing throughout and wins the day with “Ring of Keys,” when she first realizes she’s attracted to another woman, a butch lesbian spotted in a local diner.

Saturday’s performance was marred by sound issues, and the talent level is varied. These issues do not prevent “Fun Home” from being a worthy theatrical experience.

This human and humane musical, as painful and heartwarming and thought-provoking as it is, will always be worth it. And now that the rights for “Fun Home” are available for local companies, I hope to see more of them bring it to their stages.

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