Thursday, August 31, 2017

'Home' Like None Other

Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff in the national tour of Fun Home
photo by Joan Marcus 
by Jennifer Haaland

Home.  ASU Gammage opens the Broadway tour season next week with 2015's Best Musical Tony winner from New York, Fun Home. Acclaimed actor Robert Petkoff plays Bruce, head of his family's 'Fun Home.' Petkoff visited with PHX Stages about the emotional ride in store nightly at the 'house on Maple Avenue.' He offered some unexpected ideas to our traditional understanding of musicals and of home.

"We dig down to the roots of this very real, human drama," Petkoff said. " It would be easy to see Bruce as this simple, two dimensional villain. My job [however] is to make him as real as possible... He's a guy who's exterior is everything. The façade needs to be perfect because of the huge interior that he's been made to feel must always remain hidden."

Based on Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir, dubbed a "Family Tragicomic," Fun Home is the telling of Bechdel's real life drama that existed in and around her father Bruce's unexpected death during her first year at college.  Now might be a good time to mention that Fun Home could well be an abbreviation for funeral home, which the real life Bechdel residence was.  For all the great puns and excellent jokes we can derive from that double-edged title, how can we hope to escape the inevitable skeletons surely lurking in such a home's closet?

"[Director] Sam Gold made sure to impress on me that I should never feel 'I've got this," Petkoff said about the role that revolves around the discomforts caused by Bruce's secrets. "It should have a literal dis-ease that results, an UNsatisfying taint to it. That is the rabbit I chase every night."

Carly Gold, with Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff
in the national tour of Fun Home
photo by Joan Marcus 
About the musical elements, however, Petkoff finds great comfort, saying, "First and foremost I would call this a play with music. Even now that we are playing in bigger houses [on tour], we've packed up the wonderful intimacy... The very first moment I start singing demonstrates it perfectly.  Bruce's discovery of beauty in a box of crap takes him to joy that words alone won't express. It's SEAMLESS. Is he singing or speaking?"

It's the messy, coloring-outside-the-lines world that makes life unbeautiful for Bruce,--and as a result, for his young family--leading to sadness and closeted confusion. Petkoff said it breaks his heart that Bruce felt he couldn't be himself, was made to feel such shame, during his life.

"He finally gets that last opportunity to be honest with his daughter. The truth has already come out, yet even then he can't bring himself to have a conversation with her.  He's standing in that moment, but knows he's been a liar all his life and doesn't know how to fix or get past the lies."

"It's hard to be ugly to the kids. I mean, even though they are actors it has to be hard for another human, especially a young human, to process my [on stage] rage," Petkoff added regarding how his character's family copes. "There's such a weird disconnect in Bruce.

Audiences also seem surprised by the effect, in Petkoff's experience.  His advice for the Gammage audience is to come understanding we might open more than we expect.

"The uninitiated... come expecting not to be impacted and leave an emotional wreck. Fun Home has a tricky way of creating an emotional connection," Petkoff said.

We all live daily with our own version of home influencing our every move.  That place that wraps us in untold comfort and nostalgia nonetheless hides stories of our deepest scars and secrets. Maybe that's why Fun Home strikes such a poignant, timely chord.  The art and gift of this play with music, the one Petkoff and his cast-mates present for us all next week at ASU Gammage, lets us experience the terror and joy from the warm safety of our well-shadowed, soft-cushioned chair.  The brave vulnerability exposed in their story gives us strength and hope to feel at home in our own.

CLICK HERE for more information on Fun Home at ASU Gammage, playing Tuesday September 5th to Sunday September 10th

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