As Three River Music Theatre director Andy Planck said before the performance of Fun Home, Fort Wayne almost didn’t get to see a staging of this astonishing piece of theater.
Having been refused upon first application, Planck did not go down quietly. He pleaded his case to bring this cutting-edge piece to a conservative community. Against all odds, his appeal was granted, and the still relatively new TRMT was granted to rights to bring the show — which debuted on Broadway only four years ago — to our city.
For that alone, Fort Wayne should be grateful. Fun Home is a brisk, nonstop whirlwind of humor, pathos, and gut-wrenching drama, one of the finest theater offerings our community may ever see. While the story is revolutionary — the first to feature a lesbian protagonist as the focus of the play — it is also exquisitely universal in its message which is no doubt the point.
When Alison (played by three actors representing different stages of her life) finally comes to terms with her sexuality and finds her first love, it becomes immediately clear that everyone can relate to those tentative but overwhelming emotions.
The chaos and dysfunction of her family is also something most audience members can recognize even if our individual challenges may vary.
Top to bottom, the cast is peerless, with each actor bringing much to their roles. The show is nothing without its Alisons, and all of the three actresses who performed the role at varying ages — Kat Hickey, Bella Hickey, and Tegan Dostal — were up to the task. Each had songs which required emotional depth and each knocked it out of the park with their performances. Todd Frymier, as Alison’s conflicted father Bruce, provided a punch to the gut time and time again throughout the performance, alternating between loving and energetic father and occasional tyrant with ease. The fact that the show runs straight through without an intermission is key as it allows the performers to continue to build on the story’s momentum without any letdown. Once you’re in the world of the Bechdel family, it can be hard to watch, but you don’t want them to go away.
Planck’s direction is a wonder as well, and he taps into the talent and wisdom of even his youngest performers. His use of the unconventional stage at Wunderkammer is nothing short of brilliant, and with actors moving through aisles and on and off stage continually, it only adds to the intimacy of the staging. The audience is right in the middle of the drama, and the emotional impact is undeniable.
With three more weekends of performances ahead (including a special LGBTQ+ presentation on March 1 for Zero Discrimination Day), theater fans throughout northeast Indiana should see this transformational piece of theater while they can. It’s an honor for our community to host it and will only serve to open hearts and minds with its powerful message.