ESCONDIDO – One of the most impressive things about Patio Playhouse’s “Fun Home” is how it is able to accomplish so much with the relatively small space it’s afforded. The black box theater has enough seating for maybe a couple dozen people on a regular day, but for this show, Patio added extra bleachers to the opposite side of the space and managed to stuff a small orchestra in the corner.
There’s just enough room left for suggestions of locations, which is all that is necessary, since the story frequently flips between different times and locations. A set of ornate chairs here, a bookcase there. It’s just enough to let us know when and where we are, but it’s also fitting, considering the story flies through Alison Bechdel’s memories.
The 40-something cartoonist takes us on a journey of reminiscence as she tries to make sense of her father’s death and her relationship with him; as Alison, the subtly comical Dani Leandra is always present, observing the scenes from the corner, sometimes with whimsy, other times with incredulity and cringing embarrassment.
We flash back through two important stages of her life: her childhood and her time in college. Since the story is not chronological in its telling, we know from the start that Alison and her father Bruce are both gay, which informs their relationship with each other and our understanding of it.
As Bruce, David Guthrie turns in a performance that’s equal parts awkward, explosive and tragic. One of the play’s saddest scenes involves him avoiding talking about his gayness with Alison even after she comes out to him, in what is their last chance to really understand one another.
As Middle Alison, Caitlin Groome conveys the same sorts of confusion over sexual identity, but with more of a sense of relatable awkwardness. She’s fairly certain that’s lesbian, but she has trouble expressing it, and I think we can all relate to that late teens/early 20s feeling of, “Oh hell, did I really just say that?” that she finds herself falling into.
At this point, it would be prudent to mention the music, because out of all three Alisons, Emma Delaware puts the rest to shame with her emotional singing, “Ring of Keys” being a standout moment; Small Alison admits to herself that she feels some sort of attraction to a delivery woman, and Delaware’s wavering timbre really lets the character’s emotions hit home.
In fact, the rest of the cast are all great singers in their own right as well. Musicals are supposed to use songs to either drive the plot forward or provide insight into what the characters are thinking, and “Fun Home” succeeds in spades on that department. Props also need to be given to the corner-orchestra backing up the singers, though if I were to say the production has any flaws, it’s that sometimes, they end up being louder than the singers, especially the kids.
In summation, Patio Playhouse’s “Fun Home” uses what it has to tremendous effect: the cast slips comfortably into their roles; the music is comedic, emotional and story-driving; the story itself is a heartfelt depiction of one woman coming to terms with not just her sexuality, but her father’s and how it affected their relationship. Patio’s “Fun Home” does the Tony award-winning musical justice.
The show continues until Feb. 9, playing on Fridays, Saturday and Monday from 8 to 10:30 p.m., and 2 to 4:40 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased at patioplayhouse.com.
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.