I don't want to make it sound like this is a show you should see because it's "good for you". It's a solid piece of theatre, entertaining, diverting, and fun. Yes, I do think it will also feed your soul, but don't let the fact that it is important sociologically scare you away. This is a whip smart, funny, engrossing family story that everyone can relate to on one level or another.
The story centers on Alison, who narrates the play from the present, an tells us of her life growing up in rural Pennsylvania in a funeral home run by her father, a strong, interesting, demanding man who has a problem: he is deeply in the closet. We see Alison at three different ages in the play: there is ten year old Alison, who is funny and smart, young enough to play airplane with her father, make up commercials for the funeral home with her brothers, and enjoy The Partridge Family on tv but also old enough to know life is becoming quite complicated; there is also college age Alison, coming to terms with the realization that she is a lesbian and entering her first fully realized relationship; and the grown up Alison who is working on a memoir and leading us through her memories. The ten year old Alison lives in very tense household. Her mother is in manic, tragic denial of her husband's not-so-hidden desire to be with other men. Her father, unable to fully realize himself, can be quite demanding on the rest of the family. It would be strange enough to live in a functioning funeral home, but to have so much tension between her mother and father is just insane. And, of course, a situation rife with drama perfect for the stage. College age Alison has come to realize she is gay, and has her first encounter with a woman, which grows into a full fledged romance. She also comes out to her parents, which leads to some of the of the most amazing moments in this show. I don't want to give too much away of the plot, but suffice to say things go from complicated to tragic to transcendent. (for more of the plot itself, you can go HERE)
The cast is uniformly excellent. As Alison's father Bruce, Patrick Oliver Jones is a revelation: he makes Bruce alternately tragic and comic, mystic and mercurial, and always magnetic. His voice is unbelievable, and his presence undeniable. As Alison's mother Helen, Megan Van De Hay is exquisite, portraying woman living in a world that is not quite what she thought it would be or hoped for, sadly in denial and trying desperately to maintain some form of dignity in a messed up situation. She is as complex a character as Bruce, and Ms. Van De Hay delivers a powerful performance. All three of the Alison's are amazing. As Small Alison, Kelly Tanberg is electric- she portrays a kid who is going on an extreme emotional roller coaster with aplomb. As medium Alison, Jessica Kahkoska is a joy to watch- full of excitement and curiosity. Her song "Changing My Major", is a stand out; and as Alison, Allison Mickelson is outstanding, going through the entire, agonizing experience of a person trying to reconcile herself to her past with equal parts compassion and comedy. The three Alison's are seamless, connected to each other on all levels and perfectly bouncing from one age to the other. As Alison's college lover Joan, Mackenzie Beyer is lovely, kind, and awesome. It is easy to see why Alison falls for her. Atticus Baker and Gabe Levy, as Alison's brothers Christian and John, are both outstanding, giving us two more lost souls in this dysfunctional home who are trying their best to enjoy their childhood. And as multiple objects of Bruce's attention, Parker Fowler rounds out this amazing cast. Each and every character he portrays is specific and unforgettable. This is such a strong cast, so talented, so full of life and empathy and humor. Truly one of the strongest ensembles I have seen on stage in years.
As for the direction and choregraphy by Nathan Halvorson, it is (as I have come to expect from this overly talented artist) exquisite. Always moving the story forward, finding the humor and tragedy in each moment. The shows feels like a memory, intense, connected to your bones, and evocative of so many emotions. Each character is given dignity, mystery, and love. And each song is a journey, a dream, and thrilling. Music director Stephanie McGuffin gets stunning performances out of each actor and each member of the orchestra. The sets and costumes by Lex Liang, are perfect- adding to the tone, theme, and mood in subtle but effective design. And the lighting, by Holly Anne Rawls, is beautiful.
I left the show moved, crying, happy, sad, and full of wonder. The play brings to mind ones own family, ones own memories of mistakes, miscommunications, and loves. I highly recommend it for anyone who has a family, a heart, and a soul.