Fun Home grows up on The Arts Club stage

The 2015 Tony Award winning Best Musical, Fun Home makes its Canadian debut on The Arts Club Theatre Company’s Granville Island stage. Based on the graphic autobiography by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and directed by Lois Anderson, Fun Home features the adult Alison (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) trying to overcome a bout of writer’s block.  While looking back into the moments of her life she unlocks dormant memories and feelings of childhood, growing up and coming out and most importantly her relationship with her father.

The 10 year old, tomboy, Small Alison, played in a powerhouse performance by Jaime MacLean, imagines life to be like a Partridge Family episode but her obsessive compulsive father, Bruce (Eric Craig) has other ideas.  The historic home restorer, English teacher, FUNeral HOME director runs a tight ship at home and work while fighting his own personal battles. In hindsight, adult Alison can see the cracks in her fathers veneer, living in a small town during the era of the ‘love that dare not speak its name’, he occassionally gives in to his gay urges, at times dangerously steps into predatory territory.

When she heads to college,  the Medium Alison (played by Kelli Ogmundson)  comes out to herself and her family as a lesbian.  As her father grows more manic, her mother, Helen, played by Janet Gigliotti, reveals that she isn’t the perfect sitcom mom that Alison envisioned, instead she did her best to tolerate her husband’s affairs with men and the humiliation of him being caught with underage boys.  Believing her coming out was a trigger for her father’s mental state she finally unlocks her memories and puts the puzzle pieces of his life, together with her own and overcomes her writer’s block as their stories have poured out of her pencil onto the pages.

In a time when the LGBT community has made great gains in visibility, Fun Home reminds us that not long ago things were very different for the generations before us.  While Fun Home takes the audience on an emotional journey, Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics, with music by Jeanine Tesori, are able to bring in lighthearted moments to balance.
All the performers, the youth and adult actors and musicians, in this production of Fun Home shine.  Amir Ofek’s set makes us feel at home inside the historic Bechdel home, complimented by Amy McDougall’s costumes that those of us who grew up in a similar era will remember (somewhat) fondly.

Fun Home plays at The Arts Club Theatre Company’s Granville Island Stage until March 10th. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and times.

Bakersfield Mist at The Arts Club Theatre

The Arts Club Theatre Company’s Bakersfield Mist, now playing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, reminds the audience just how subjective the art world really is, and who decides what makes a masterpiece.

Award-winning playwright Stephen Sachs based Bakersfield Mist on a true event. Detailed in the documentary “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock” tells the story of retired truck driver Teri Horton’s $5 thrift shop painting that was possibly a Jackson Pollock.  The story follows Teri’s, or Maude Gutman as she’s now named in the play, attempt to have the painting authenticated and the fight against the established art world.

Bakersfield Mist takes place completely in Maude’s Palm Springs trailer, filled with her art ‘finds’. The contrast of the tchotchke laden trailer with the supposed Pollack masterpiece shadows the contrast of foul-mouthed Maude, played by the brilliant Nicola Cavendish, against the uptight, pretentious art expert Lionel Percy, played by Jonathan Monro.  The performances from both players make the character feel authentic as they try to cement their viewpoint.  I’m sure we’ve all had debates like this about subjectivity of art, Bakersfield Mist is the amplification of all of those debates – who decides what makes art.

While the trailer-park perfect set may seem cluttered and the language is colourful, the simplicity of having just the dynamic duo on stage and no intermission grabs the audience and drags them along on the pairs back and forth as they find they have more in common than first meets the eye.

Bakersfield Mist is now playing at The Arts Club Theatre’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, running until November 20th.