Caption:  Everything Is Not Alright at the “Fun Home”

Shakespeare once wrote, “to thine own self be true.” LBGTQ+ or straight, it’s all very simple and, yet, so complicated when we are not open to being true to ourselves. “Fun Home,” the musical now showing at Good Luck Macbeth, invites us to take a serious look at how we accept who we are and how communication and self-truth are the only security we really need. This play, which is the debut directorship for Jesse Mae Briggs, makes the call to listen, accept, and love.

The shabby set will prompt some imagination as middle-aged cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Malary Engstrom) tries to unlock the pieces of her life that triggered each significant milestone, especially those influenced by the opacity of her parents Bruce (Ryan Kelly) and Helen (Stacy Russell). Alison and her family, including brothers Christian (Bryce Hurley) and John (Max Bailie), live in a restored Victorian home that is attached to the family mortuary (the Fun Home) where, on the surface, everything is in its place.

Imani Valle soars as young Alison and, together with Hurley and Bailie, brings infectious childhood energy to every scene. However, their voices were nearly overshadowed by the percussionist’ (Brandon Dodge) over-exuberant rhythm and tendency to solo when blending was more appropriate. The rest of the band played beautifully. The children bring the perfect harmony of lightness to Engstrom’s serious self-reflection.

Kelly’s booming voice and stage presence encapsulate the character with his frustration, self-deception, parental love, and the ability to ignore everyone else including his own truth. Russell plays Alison’s mother elegantly until we see her true depth as she reveals her own misery and the melting of her luster—broken dreams tarnished by the “days and days” of duty of her generation. Young adult Alison (Natalie Gonzalez), in her college self-discovery and first love, convinces us all that “changing our major” to Joan (Amelia Giles) is the best possible option. Gonzalez and Giles’ chemistry is just so right.

While the set may require creativity from the audience, Katelyn Caufield’s costumes were well selected to each era, especially those worn by older Russell. JoAnna Wagner’s choreography was fun-filled for the larger scenes and the cast performed their numbers with ease. It is clear that Briggs, with her Assistant (Timothy Mahoney) and Musical Directors (Kris Engstrom), understood the depth and balance needed for this type of musical. It is obvious that a respectful delicateness was applied to this relevant performance. Engstrom was perfection, granting us the pleasure of listening to him parse Alison’s truth for an hour and a half.

This transformative musical has a message for anyone who has been a child or parented/mentored a child. I went home and hugged my children a little tighter with a promise to remind them often that I accept their whole person, share my own experiences without self-judgment, talk about what really matters, and listen. Truth isn’t redundantly used in this play; it is the foundation of how we shape our identity. Because, deep down, all we really want is to be loved and accepted for our own uniqueness.

This is a talented cast that will keep you engrossed even without an intermission. You will laugh with joy and may even be triggered to tears. Fun Home is, hands down, the best community theater performance I’ve ever attended. This show needs to be sold out every night and run forever (or at least extra performances)!

 

Lisa Genasci

Lisa Genasci, Art Spot Reno theater critic

 

If you go:

What: “Fun Home”

Where: Good Luck Macbeth Theatre, 124 W. Taylor St.

When: through July 27

Tickets: Make reservations online at goodluckmacbeth.org, call 775-322-3716, or email: info@goodluckmacbeth.org

 

The Final Hours in a Motel

Only a bed, chair and table, and two ugly red rugs occupy the stage. A handsome man enters the shabby Memphis motel room. It is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Justin Tanks). Tanks commands the character with swagger and grace. He barely resembles King physically, but his delivery is impeccable. “America’s going to hell,” he mumbles, pulling off his shoes. In this moment, King is just a man, exhausted from fighting to deliver peace to America’s masses. Enter Camae (Kennedy Hall), a spitfire maid, who ends up being more of a godsend than she first appears. They share a cigarette and strike up a conversation that neither King, nor the audience, realizes will be a life-changing exchange.

Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, on stage at Good Luck Macbeth until Sept. 9, is a gripping glimpse into the final hours in the life of a man mostly remembered in black-and-white. Without even a scene break, King and Camae chat, joke, debate, and even flirt, while their conversation drives deeper and deeper until their racial angst fills the room like smoke. At one point, Camae stands on the bed, wearing the Reverend’s coat and shoes, and improvises a compelling speech she would give if she were King. How can we fight the war in Vietnam, but not the one being fought here everyday against Negroes in the streets, she seethes.

After a major plot twist, I struggled to keep my emotions contained. I imagine some might find the importance of King’s life and story trivialized by this sharp detour, but I had no trouble fully appreciating the more fictitious elements. They only embolden the real messages that pervaded King’s work. In a chilling moment, King realizes it’s snowing in Memphis. He opens the door to find a white and ominous snowdrift at his feet—a metaphor for the destiny he cannot escape.

Director Sandra Brunell Neace and her two shining stars flawlessly bring Hall’s script to life—a story both heartwarming and heartbreaking—leaving many in the audience in tears. Together, Tanks and Hall bring to the stage a breathtaking passion and hold it just at the boiling point throughout. Though it will soon be fifty years since the world lost King, The Mountaintop feels more urgent and relevant than ever. I left the theater inspired, but admittedly bewildered. A single line echoed in my head; one of the first spoken by King in the opening scene: “America, you are too arrogant.”

What:  The Mountaintop

Where: Good Luck Macbeth, 713 S. Virginia St.

When: Through Sept. 9

By Owen Bryant

“Grounded” Tackles Moral Dilemmas

George Brant’s off Broadway play, “Grounded,” opened in Reno Thursday night, November 12, at Midtown’s Good Luck Macbeth Theatre. The one-woman, one-act play runs just over an hour; and while the production might be a small, the author’s message is weighty.

The play’s heroine is a rarity in the macho world of fighter-jet jockeys: a woman. Nevertheless, she possesses the same cocky, thrill-seeking persona as her male counterparts, who she proudly calls “my boys.” They knock down brewskis together and regale in their sorties over Iraq. The unnamed woman pilot, played by Ashley Marie James, loves everything about her job: the speed, the danger but most of all, flying F-16s in the boundless and exhilarating expanse of “the blue.”

During a night out with the “boys,” she meets Eric, a small-town hardware store clerk, who isn’t put off by her cocky persona. On the contrary he’s excited by it, especially when she sports her flight suit. He even wants to get it on while she wears it. They fall in love, marry and she soon becomes pregnant. But pregnancy for a female flyer is career-ending — a “Bermuda Triangle” from which “no one ever comes back.” Regulations prohibit pregnant pilots from flying. The erstwhile aviator is grounded and sentenced to the “chair force.” Assigned to steer a drone from the safety of the Nevada desert, she rationalizes the advantages of having the “threat of death removed.” Yes, she can still attack the enemy, but from the safety of her armchair during a twelve-hour shift. Then it’s a short drive home to kiss the husband and daughter in the comfort of their desert home. “Viva Las Vegas.”

But while mortal danger might have been removed from the aerial combatant, killing by remote control has its own special horrors that wreak havoc on the psyche. What the jet pilot loved about the thrilling war in the wild “blue” yonder is absent in the death she metes out via joy stick. “Gray” images of missile strikes on victims below are now visible on an impersonal computer screen and they’re horrific ones she’s never before witnessed. As James opined after the show, “In a twelve-hour shift, nothing happens for nine. It’s boredom then destruction.”

It’s not easy to carry a solo show, and especially hard for an actor to have the stage presence to keep an audience engaged. I was impressed with James. She swaggered around the stage in a trim flight suit exulting, pronouncing, sermonizing, reflecting, lamenting, and despairing as her character evolved during the one-hour-plus performance. Director Joe Atack created a minimalist set fitted with a single chair, small sand dunes and a narrow runway and James owned it, circling and pacing like a predator on the hunt. A screen at the rear of the stage was used to great effect to project the actor’s interior emotions, while she narrated her story. Well done Director Atack. My minor critique would be that James would be more compelling if she throttled back a bit on the pace of the dialogue. Inflection and emphasis are dramatic, and the audience needs a moment to absorb the dialogue’s impact.

“Grounded” is a moral dilemma tale that poses difficult and contemporary questions. Go see it and take your friends, along with your thinking caps. It’s a taut, provocative script well interpreted by James and Atack. Then hit the nearest coffee shop to hash out what you’ve seen, because these issues aren’t going away. As author Brant tells it: “F-16s are dinosaurs. Drones? Can’t make ‘em fast enough.” Get your tickets soon. “Grounded” is only playing through Saturday, November 28. I just might see it again.

If you go:

What: “Grounded”

Where: Good Luck Macbeth Theatre, 713 S. Virginia St.

When: Through Nov. 28

                                 

By Galen Watson

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