Hollins Production Challenges, Entertains

Co-director, Ernie Zulia, head of the Hollins Theatre Department, gives a precise assessment of “Fun Home,” which is on the stage through Sunday: The story “challenges us to see the complexities of the human condition.”

Hollins often does that with its forceful, student-led productions and “Fun Home” is but another feather in that particular theatrical cap, the one worn by a group that often sets the high standards for this particular art form in the Roanoke Valley.

The play’s title is not indicative of a comedy in progress. “Fun Home” is short for “funeral home,” which the father in the story operates (along with being a high school teacher).

Like so much popular culture these days, “Fun Home” has its genesis in the graphic novel, this one a semi-autobiographical tale from Alison Bechdel, which has been honored in just about every way it can be, especially with multiple Tony Awards. It is the riveting story of a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality even as her family falls apart and her father’s gay tendencies lead to his suicide (I’m not giving away anything here; you learn all this in the opening minutes).

Zulia and co-director Rachel Nelson, a Hollins theater professor who has focused her work on LGBTQ and marginalized identities, make this a universal story of family dynamics, personal struggles and the value of truth. This is an area where live theater is at its best whether overtly or subtly bringing controversial issues to the fore and treating them with the respect they deserve.

As is most often the case, the Hollins talent bin runneth over, this time with students who can act, sing and dance–like Nick McCord as Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, and a trio of actresses playing Alison at different ages (Anna Holland, a Roanoker and Hollins senior, Deirdre Price and Anna Johnson). Lindsay Bronston, a Hollins junior studying theater and music, becomes a scene thief (as Alison’s mother) with her lovely voice.

This is a powerful production, mixing important themes with occasional humor and a few tears. The lone problem I had with the production was that I often could not understand what was being sung or spoken. I’m not sure if it was a function of the sound board, too many people talking or singing (different lyrics) simultaneous or just what, but there were moments when I was left clueless as to what was being spoken or sung.

As always, Hollins fully understands the importance of theater and isn’t shy about bringing us the best of it.

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