The final stage image of Arden’s Fun Home is lovely and profound and essentially theatrical: Three characters are united as they are revealed to be one. Like Albee’s Three Tall Women, Fun Home is a memory play, where the present-day, oldest character roams through the discoveries of her past selves and arrives at self-acceptance.
The show is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Terrence J. Nolen has directed a tender production of this Tony-winning show. The audience surrounds the stage — white and waiting, like Alison’s sketch pad — and we watch as she fills in scene after scene, coping with the shock of her father’s suicide, charting, through her captioned cartoons, her own coming out as a lesbian, a long process from childhood.
Small Alison is played by Lily Lexer, who is sweet, but her voice seems a bit too young and too shrill for the song everybody loves, “Ring of Keys.” Small Alison adores her bully of a father (Ben Dibble), whose obsessive hobby is restoring old houses and polishing old silver. The past is the point, and Dibble creates a remarkably complex portrait of a conflicted, self-admiring, self-loathing, married gay man. The airplane game they play only seems to be fun as it hides their desperate needs to escape.
Medium Alison (Izzy Castaldi) does escape. She goes off to college and falls in love with Joan (Jackie Soro) with wonderfully excruciatingly young excitement. Her musical declaration, “I’m going to major in Joan,” is completely charming. Her mother (sweet-voiced Kim Carson delivers her musical warning, “Days and Days,” beautifully and bitterly) knows too well the price of denial: “I didn’t raise you to give away your days like me.”
But the show belongs to Alison, whose role seems small but whose presence is large. Mary Tuomanen brings meaning — surprise, embarrassment, yearning — to every lift of her eyebrows and turn of her head as she watches her memory enact her life. It is a quietly brilliant performance.
The production itself is quietly fine. The orchestra of seven musicians lurks upstage, just as music often lurks in memory; the lighting by Thom Weaver is happily subtle.
Through June 17 at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St. Tickets: $15-$52. Information: 215-922-1122, ardentheatre.or