Fun Home, the musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel‘s 2006 graphic memoir, opens at Anaheim’s Chance Theater this weekend. When I saw the national tour of this show in 2017, I walked away uplifted. I said here, “Fun Home is what art is for.”
Since the Chance consistently excels with musical theatre, I was excited to hear they’d included this terrific show in their 22nd season’s lineup. I wanted a sneak peek at how this production might differ from the one I loved three years ago, so I asked director Marya Mazor if she would talk to me about what she’s doing and why it will appeal.
Leona Laurie: What was your experience with Fun Home before taking it on?
Marya Mazor: I was lucky enough to see the Broadway production with my daughter. It was one of her favorite Broadway shows, and it made a lasting impression on us both. We fell in love with the poignancy of the story, and with the way that it handles such profound and politically relevant issues within the musical form; I knew immediately that this was a show I would love to direct if given the opportunity.
LL: Can you introduce our readers, who somehow don’t already know her, to Alison Bechdel?
MM: Alison Bechdel is known for her work as a cartoonist on her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which was groundbreaking as one of the first open portrayals of lesbian characters in popular culture. She is also well known for her graphic memoir, Fun Home, on which this show is based. The show was one of the first Broadway musicals to feature a lesbian protagonist, and Fun Home’s win at the Tonys constituted the first time a writer/composer team of two women won that award. Bechdel’s name is also familiar to those who have heard of the “Bechdel Test”, which is used to analyze the portrayal of women in films. The criteria for this “test” came from one of Bechdel’s comic strips, in which two women are vainly searching for a film that involves female characters (with names who) speak to each other about subjects other than men. So, Bechdel has made invaluable contributions to our contemporary culture’s recognition of the challenges of living as a woman in a patriarchal society, and the unique experiences and challenges of lesbian women.
LL: For those who have never been exposed to Fun Home, who would especially love it?
MM: One of the brilliant things about Fun Home is that because it is the portrayal of a family, it can appeal to anyone who has grown up in one. It is a story of identity and the struggle to overcome repressed sexual identity, which has particular resonance for the gay and lesbian community and to allies of that community. It also speaks to what happens to a family when it keeps secrets– and what happens when those secrets finally emerge.
LL: For those who are familiar with the show, what are the aspects of this production you’re excited for them to experience?
MM: I think the intimacy of this production and scenic designer Bradley Kaye’s choice of “alley” seating — placing the audience on two sides so that we are truly immersed in the story, will be exciting to anyone who has seen the show in a larger venue. I am particularly thrilled by the work of our design team (in addition to Bradley Kaye, Andrea Heilman – lighting; Ryan Brodkin – sound; and Bradley Lock – costumes), who have really done an amazing job of clarifying this multi-layered story so that it works from every vantage point. Ultimately, I think it’s our incredible cast that I think our audiences will truly connect with; they are all just doing extraordinary work, and it has been such a gift and honor to collaborate with each one of them.
LL: Can you tell us a little about the cast and how it has been to help them find the characters?
MM: Sometimes you get to work with a cast that just really connects in a deep way to the material and is willing to take extraordinary risks. This cast has been like that from the beginning — deeply researching every aspect of the story, sharing information, and then finding a way to apply that information to elevate not only their specific performance but the entire production. They are very patient and giving with each other, with me and with the entire rehearsal and technical process!
LL: What are some stellar elements of the artistic, sound and production design?
MM: As I mentioned, I think the scenic design by Bradley Kaye really does a lot to enhance the storytelling, not only through the seating configuration but also through immersive scenic elements that surround the audience and help us to feel that we are inside the Bechdel home. Andrea Heilman’s lighting design is so beautiful and inventive, from the rich use of “practicals” (lighting fixtures that one would find at home), as well as gorgeous and surprising treatments of the key songs “Maps” and “Telephone Wire,” among many other moments. Bradley Lock’s costumes do a beautiful job of helping us follow and track our “three Alisons” — since we see the character at three different ages — while also addressing the challenge of making split-second shifts in time period. And Ryan Brodkin has done a terrific job with the sound design in critical moments while also supporting the complex challenge of balancing the sound of the cast and band in an intimate venue. It really is a top-notch SoCal team.
LL: What are your favorite parts of working at the Chance?
MM: The Chance is truly a “family” — they make you feel supported and part of a community in every step of the process. It’s always about making the best work, and never about individual egos. And because I have worked on numerous Chance shows over the years, we have a kind of shorthand in communication that I think makes the work stronger. We trust each other, and that is at the core of making the work there successful.
LL: What’s next for you?
MM: I am excited to be working with the Main Street Theatre at the Lewis Family Playhouse on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – a story about love, loss and learning to keep on loving in spite of the heartache. It is the kind of young audiences’ show that can resonate equally with adults and children.
Fun Home runs at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, CA, until March 1. Click here for tickets!
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