New Home, Fun Home

CVTG first to tread Jamf stage with Fun Home

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

IT ALL COMES BACK. Joel Breed (Bruce Bechdel) and Charlotte Schaller (Small Alison) practice playing airplane for a touching scene in the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild’s production of Fun Home.
IT ALL COMES BACK. Joel Breed (Bruce Bechdel) and Charlotte Schaller (Small Alison) practice playing airplane for a touching scene in the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild’s production of Fun Home.

Picking a familiar show may have been an easy win at the box office for the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, according to director Keith Lorasch, but the theatrical group’s selection committee had something else in mind for its debut performance at the Pablo Center at the Confluence.The Jamf Theatre, a new setting, called for a new show – the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home.

Fun Home is a small show that packs a big punch. Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and adapted for the stage by Lisa Kran and Jeanine Tesori, the musical is a collection of vignettes from Alison’s life. Three actors portray Alison as a child (Charlotte Schaller), as a young adult (Molly Wilson), and in middle age (Susie Draeger). Alison narrates the play, sharing her story of trying to understand her father (a troubled closeted gay man with whom she had a tense relationship), and her own identity and sexuality.

"Because theater people who knew the show knew this would be something special, they wanted to be involved with it." – Keith Lorasch, director of the CVTG production of Fun Home

Schaller, Wilson, and Draeger adapted quickly to playing the same person, Lorasch and Draeger agreed. They watched one another closely, averaging their interpretations of Alison with Lorasch’s direction to create a seamless performance. Lorasch praised the Alisons’ quick implementation of feedback, down to details as small as whether they cross their legs when they sit. It will be fun for the audience to see the ways the three Alisons work together to carry her story, Draeger said.

The cast might be small – nine actors and seven pit members – but this musical requires a skilled crew, Lorasch said. Everyone down to the youngest actor, 6-year-old Mikael Gibson (John Bechdel), needed to be great performers with strong voices to carry their emotional songs. Thankfully, Lorasch said, the talent was available. “The talent pool isn’t just in Eau Claire, but we have people coming from Menomonie, we have people coming from Colfax, we have people coming from Fall Creek,” he said. “Because theater people who knew the show knew this would be something special, they wanted to be involved with it.”

The play will take place on a thrust stage, meaning the audience will surround the performers on three sides. “In some cases the audience is as far away from the performers as you and I are right now,” Lorasch said, gesturing to the roughly three-foot distance between us. “So that story has a lot of intimacy to it.”

“It’s a conversation starter,” Draeger said of Fun Home. “I’m sure there will be people who will come see this and it will open their heart and their mind to things that they haven’t considered,” she said. Fun Home explores Alison’s realization of her own sexuality, the similarities and differences between individuals and their families, and the discovery of one’s parents we all experience as we move through life.

Draeger recognizes the significant differences between herself and her character, and draws upon the commonalities between her life and Alison’s to carry out an empathetic performance. “I just want Alison to be portrayed honestly, so I search for her truth,” she said.

Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild production of Fun Home • Oct. 4-6, 7:30pm • Oct. 7, 1:30pm • Jamf Theatre at the Pablo Center at the Confluence, 128 Graham Ave. • $25 adults, $12 for students • (715) 832-7529 • cvtg.org