REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s riveting musical, ‘Fun Home’ unveils the illusion of perfection

Every home withholds a multitude of secrets.  Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, The SpeakEasy Stage Company takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an old Victorian house so tidy and flawless on the outside, flanked with a towering bookshelf, a grand piano, and oriental rugs, it neatly hides the cracks and crevices underneath.  With clever scenic design by Cristina Todesco, SpeakEasy Stage unveils this absorbing musical as an interactive treat, every seat a good one, luring the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

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COME TO THE FUN HOME.  Marissa Simeqi, Luke Gold, and Cameron Levesquue in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Paul Daigneault, The SpeakEasy Stage presents the five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Looking back on life, it’s funny what you recall. Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory, gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she mused, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

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Marissa Simeqi and Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Told through Alison’s perspective, she looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic, intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  The show is a musical drama with its share of comedic, uplifting moments.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the intense, meticulous work by Marissa Simeqi, adorably and precociously portrayed by Small Alison and Ellie van Amerongen, exceptional as naïve, charming, and nervous Medium Alison.

With black rimmed classes with short dark hair, Amy Jo Jackson slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Jackson narrates this emotional journey, evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features, building her strength in each new discovery.

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ALISON AT DESK. Marissa Simeqi and Amy Jo Jackson in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Todd Yard, in a searing performance, masters the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce, who seems to juggle who is or should be to everyone, but cannot openly face his true nature.  With black rimmed glasses and dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, he is serious man with a brilliant intellect, aiming to be an expert on most everything.  Friendly, strict, and responsible, but as much as he loves his family, secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Yard’s vocals have a lovely, emotionally-rich quality reflected in whatever he sings including the poignant number Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World  – a must see.

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EDGES OF THE WORLD. Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Laura Marie Duncan portrays Alison’s complicated and misunderstood mother.  Surrounding herself with outward perfection, like her husband, Bruce, she lives her life distancing herself from reality, reflected in the moving number, Days and Days.  She personifies a woman with the traditional values of her generation, building security within the walls of her home.  Duncan, a beautiful soprano, is behind the house that shines, keeping the flaws out of sight.

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Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the small onstage orchestra, spread out in front of the bookcase, features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by bright colors and retro costumes, but sung in Small Alison’s hope of escaping reality.

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RAINCOAT OF LOVE. The cast of SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Some things cannot be fixed.  The painful and difficult moments, and those joyful moments, that might not have been as once imagined.  The best thing is to learn from it and take the next step.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Fun Home continues through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Speakeasy Stage on Facebook for more on their upcoming events.

 

 

Centastage’s Joe Antoun directs Shakespeare with a comedic, twist-filled spin in new play, ‘Noir Hamlet’

Picture a dark night in 1949 Los Angeles, a mysterious death, a new take on a classic, twist-filled tale, and a play within a…comedy?  That’s what happens when playwright John Minigan melds key elements of Shakespeare’s classic tale while throwing in a doll, a dame, and a detective in Centastage’s Noir Hamlet continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Even for those familiar with Hamlet, this tale is full of surprises.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet

Centastage’s Executive Director, founding member, and Noir Hamlet’s director Joseph Antoun discusses classic noir, Write On, and just where the idea for Noir Hamlet came from.  Joe won an IRNE for Excellence in Theatre.

Sleepless Critic:  Noir Hamlet is a fascinating, inventive play.  Since Shakespeare’s Hamlet has dark and mysterious elements, it’s easy to see the connection to noir.  However, this is a full-length comedy in one act.  How did this show come together?

Joseph Antoun:  John Minigan, part of our Write On playwriting group that meets once a month, wrote Noir Hamlet.  It was read in our playwriting group episodically, which means a couple of scenes brought it every now and then.  Through that process, John was able to shape this show.  Several playwrights bring in their work.

Noir Hamlet has key elements of the famous Shakespeare play such as finding out the mystery behind Hamlet’s father’s death.  Four actors are playing multiple roles.  The secretary’s name is Ray Chio, like ‘Horatio’ in John’s language and the same actor who plays Rey also plays Yorick’s skull.  Hamlet and Gertrude strictly play their roles, but Claude, as in Claudius, also portrays the Ghost of Hamlet and a character named Paolo Niro.  In that case, they are switching characters, but Rae is a love interest for Hamlet.  There’s also questions raised if Claude is also carrying on with Rae.  The show has lots of red herrings.

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Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams in Noir Hamlet through June 30. Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  It’s vintage noir style.  That must have been fun to put on stage.

JA:  It was a riot!  The comedy has not only the noir look with long trench coats and fedoras, but the stereotypical language such as ‘mug,’ ‘doll,’ and ‘dame.’   It’s a fast moving script with lots of twists.

SC:  It’s a comedy, so I imagine the way this show is put together, even if the audience has read Hamlet, they still won’t know what is coming.

JA:  If the audience knows Hamlet, they’ll get a kick out what is acknowledged and paid homage to.  If they think by knowing Hamlet they’ll figure out the story, they’ll be surprised.

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Noir Hamlet’s Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  A few local performers are taking the stage such as Liz Adams from Medford.  How was the audition process held?

JA:  It was a very personal type of casting.  I knew I wanted Paul Melendy for Hamlet because I had directed hi m before.  I knew Bob Murphy has the right comic timing.  He understands the show and Hamlet very well, so I knew he could enhance it.  Last year in Newburyport, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, who plays Rey, took part in a Noir Hamlet reading and John was pleased with it.  I admired Liz Adams’s work.  She played Julius Caesar in the all-female actor Shakespeare project version of Julius Caesar.  A lot of the audition process was just one-on-one interviews more than monologues or sonnets.

Coincidentally, we’re in the Black Box Theatre for Noir Hamlet, but across the hall in the Plaza Theatre, OWI is performing Red Velvet, calling it an Othello like you’ve never seen before.

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Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  What was most surprising about this production together?

JA:  One is the lightning pace of the show.  The faster the pacing, the funnier and better the show will be.  What is also surprising is the physical humor in it.  How funny simple actions such as turning the head or stepping out of the scene in film noir style have been.

SC:  His Girl Friday, an old film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, is not exactly a film noir, but the pacing is also incredibly quick.  One can detect four jokes in one line.  It’s a brilliant film.

JA:  Yes, Noir Hamlet has the same style and it pays homage to that film.  I watched a whole lot of film noir to catch up on the noir language such as Laura, The Big Sleep, and film noir-style films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Naked GunNoir Hamlet is its own thing though it has its influences.

SC:  Centastage is in its 28th season.  How has it evolved over the years?

Centastage started with seasons of new plays by local writers and I realized I didn’t think we were serving audiences or playwrights by a season every year of the best plays we received if I didn’t feel like they were ready for production.  Over time, we started putting more energy into the development process of new plays.  Now we do a new play when we think we have a script ready for it.

In 2015, our last full production was IRNE-nominated Academy Fight Song by Andrew Clarke.  It took five years to develop between Andrew Clarke, the playwright, doing readings, rewriting it, and us rereading it.   Centastage is a great community to be a part of and it’s nice to deal with playwrights, actors, directors, and designers.

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Courtesy of Centastage

SC:  Please tell me about Write On, which is how Noir Hamlet came together in the first place.

JA:  Write On has been meeting since 1994 on the first Monday of every month.  We have actors come who like to write plays.  The members bring in work and we read and discuss them.  John Minigan has a dramatic piece that is a Eugene O’ Neill finalist this year.  When he brought Noir Hamlet in the first time, the people laughed their way through acting it.  The theatre group has been great.  We have been through years of big numbers but right now.   My guess is that we are at 12-15 regular playwrights.   It’s a very thoughtful process.  All genres, all forms and open to whoever wants to join.  We also put together readings open to the public, social events, and on the website are playwright and actor head shots as well as show titles that have gone on to Centastage full productions.

SC:  I imagine you hear a lot of shows that come across the board.  How do you decide which on you want to work with?

JA:  That’s a really good question.  A lot of it is my gut.  I enjoy plays with a strong sense of character, good storytelling, and surprising themes.   I have actors that come into the writing group and I also teach at Emerson which exposes me to not only young actors, but professional actors who are on faculty and we have open auditions.

I believe in building bridges between playwrights and artists.  Playwrights that have you read their play in a reading start to build a bridge between you and that work.  I think it’s a good way to connect with new plays coming up.

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Noir Hamlet continues through June 30 Photo courtesy of Centastage

It sounds like Centastage plays a big part in the whole picture.  Click here for more information and tickets to Noir Hamlet, continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information on Centastage and here for Write On.  Follow Centastage on Facebook and Twitter.

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