A moving local showing of The ACTUAL DANCE

“The Actual Dance” final New York showing before the national tour
review by Inola M. McGuire

ad-poster-4 This stage play, a one-man show, was written and performed by the Samuel Simon; and it was directed by Kate Holland. The monologue was directed to the audience about the journey this husband had walked with his wife, Susan, before and after her bout with breast cancer. The themes in the play are all about the roles of caregivers and the stand by your spouse for better or worst vow when there is a medical crisis. In today’s society, not too many spouses stay with their wives when they are diagnosed with cancer. This man has demonstrated enough strength for ten men in his story. The life story of Mr. Simon and his wife, Susan, was well documented in the program’ but hearing him speak and telling his story in a warm and personal fashion added a special feel to his performance. He has taken his experience and uses it as a learning tool for the world to gain an insight into his sphere with ease and humility. His determination to share this story has been very therapeutic Mr. Simon traced his family tree and that of his wife’s family with cancer on stage. He was very charming in his delivery of the subject matter of cancer, as he combined everything to an orchestra, the ballroom, the guest of the dance, and the love of the dance. This analogy helped me and the audience to understand its purpose. However, he mentioned that the dancers were the only ones who recognized the song. One of his most touching comments on stage was when Mr. Simon made reference to the non-existence of the orchestra before it is assembled with the musicians after they are called to play. His delivery made it possible for the audience to connect with his personal story because he was committed to stay with his wife after he experienced an outer-body experience in the doctor’s office. In the year 2000 was the turning point in his marriage.

Mr. Simon made reference of Dr. Happy, his wife’s surgeon, and how he had to familiarize himself with being the supporter of his wife. By this time, their friends and members of their families knew all about Susan’s situation. He claimed he was by himself in the center of the dance floor for weeks while his wife was undergoing chemo therapy. The actual dance is the consummation of their love. He was by her side for each hospital stay and doctor’s appointments.Being a caregiver for his wife was a new experience because he had not really participated in the changing of diapers when his children were babies. He rose to the occasion during his wife’s illness, and he can attest to the journey that many caregivers had traveled before his incident. Most of the time, caregivers are taken for granted and Mr. Simon’s first-hand experience with his Rabbi spoke volume to the audience. People who we expect to be sympathetic are somewhat insensitive when they are needed at the spur of the moment. Today, Susan Simon is still alive and the couple is looking forward to celebrate its 50th wedding anniversary next year, 2016.

Figaro’s Fun in the Bronx

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The Review of the Bronx Opera Company’s The Marriage of Figaro
reviewed by Inola M. McGuire

The production of the Bronx Opera Company of The Marriage of Figaro was a performance fit for venues in Manhattan in terms of its quality. The sets and costumes were outstanding; and the actors’ performances were exceptional. In retrospect, Lehman College’s Lovinger Theatre is as good as any other location to showcase such a production. The hard work and the dedication of the actors are realized on stage with their singing all Arias in English.

The basic theme of this opera entails aristocracy, Count Almaviva, who thinks he is worthy or entitled to have the first picking of Susanna on her wedding night. Figaro finds out about the Count’s intention and he wants to have his revenge on his master. In the first act, the actors, including Figaro and Susanna maneuver on stage along with other actors to force the Count to abandon his licentious objective by any means necessary. Marcellina with the help of Bartolo tries to convince Figaro that he has to marry her. She presents a contract to him. The hired servants find resourceful ways to defuse

In act two, even the Countess unearths creative ways to restore the love she needs in her marriage from the Count. The countess obtains Susanna’s help in an attempt to repair her loveless marriage. This plan warrants a few schemes within the act by the characters on stage. The actors express their intentions in songs, arias, mostly in English. In the end, Figaro and Susanna’s wedding is In act three, Susanna maintains her deception against the Count’s unsolicited advances. In this act, Figaro finds out that Marcellina and Bartolo are his parents, and Susanna’s fears of losing Figaro is put to rest. Susanna and the Countess compose a letter to continue their trap of deceit to confirm a rendezvous with Susanna and the Count in the garden. The Count is manipulated and he is forced to agree to the demands of the servants of his household. Now, Figaro and Susanna are much closer to their wedding celebration; and Susanna gives the Count a letter that is sealed with a pin.

In act four, the stakes are much higher for all of the characters; Figaro thinks Susanna is unfaithful to him when she is not. His mother, Marcellina tells the men off about the ways in which they treat women. Figaro and the Count both experience their encounter with rage because of their love for their wives when they think they are unfaithful. All of the misunderstandings are settled between the men; and Figaro is no lesser a man than the Count who is a part of the nobility. Susanna is not subjected to the wild yearning of the count because he reunites with the Countess.

The audience was in high spirits of this production, and I know they enjoyed their time in the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College. It is a quality production.

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SHORT PLAY LAB: APRIL reviewed by Inola M. McGuire

John Chatterton presents Short Play Lab: April

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The first play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “The Presence of Absence” performed by two actors. It highlighted an everyday issue in our society among couples of all races, creed and socio-economical back grounds. In the play, the middle-age man was unappreciated by his ex-wife during their marriage, and he purchased a robot that was manufactured in Japan and programmed with charm in order to serve as a worker to her master in his home. In his living room, he read the manual and he snapped the robot into operation. The robot became operational and it communicated with the middle-age man. He was able to tell the robot all about his life with his ex-wife, Stacy. He painted a negative picture of a very disagreeable woman who did not know how to be charming to her husband, yet he still pays her alimony and child support. His telling of their trip to the Caribbean resonated a lot to the audience. In my mind, I was only thinking about a spoiled American in the Caribbean on vacation. There was empathy in the audience for the middle-aged man. He was out of options in his life, so why knocked a good man down for taking the next step in his life. He unloaded himself to the robot like a dump truck emptying its garbage. The robot served him a drink. He was very happy! He probed the robot for information concerning what or all tasks it was capable of performing for him. Being starved for appreciation and love, the man realized that the robot can’t give him his ultimate desire, the emotional connection he desperately seeks from a woman. Communication between them became a struggle; something was missing in translation, on the issue of physical interaction with the robot. He just couldn’t find true love with his robot. In my opinion, I think the writer wanted the audience to search within itself and society as to the emotional toll of not being about to find true love and what else that goes with it.

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The second play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Watch The Gap” performed by two actors. The play made the audience think about getting on and off a LIRR train to and from Long Island. It is common knowledge that there are many gaps between platforms and train cars on this route. The setting was a train car or a doctor’s office in my mind with seats and a lone passenger in a monologue However, the actress demonstrated to the audience that she was in her own gap with a life of pain and alcohol while traveling the LIRR to and from her home in Long Island for many years. The writer wanted the audience to reflect on its own journey in life. If one is not careful, he or she may not hear the announcement and end up in a hole mentally that may be too wide for him or her to get out off on his The announcement of watch the gap is a metaphor for caution in our society. We have to pay close attention to the rules and warning signs as we travel the highway of life in different mode of transportation. Society is not confined to the LIRR train as its only approach to life’s problems. The writer wanted the audience to
notice their surroundings and be aware of them figuratively and literally. The irony of this play is the fact that the so-alone rider, with her bottle of alcohol, is escorted by an aide into her doctor’s office. The question remains in the audience’s mind, was she able to get out of her deep and mysterious place through medical intervention for her problems? Now, it is a wise thing to always listen to the messages of life to watch the gap.

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The third play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Love Me, Love Me Not” performed by two actors. The actors portrayed Romeo and Juliet living together and performing together on stage. The setting of the play was their dressing room where they were arguing with each other about their current physical beauty. Juliet’s character voiced her opinion to Romeo’s character about their relationship. Romeo reminded her that she was not the young maiden he met many years ago, earlier in their relationship. She demonstrated to him that make up and a few accessories can create the illusions of youth. Romeo’s character complained about his lack of physical agility and he proved his point to her by falling on the floor. Both of them heard the announcement about the time they had left before the curtain call. Romeo’s character put on his wig and his transformation was evident to the audience. The writer wanted the audience to know that we all can hold on to a fantasy with the aid of costumes despite the reality. They were only acting and playing themselves in a play about two lovers. In an ideal world, love is supposed to be blind. One shouldn’t attempt to highlight his or her lover’s faults or flaws; but most people do when they have been around each other for a specific period of time. In their mind’s eye, after being together for many years; they still want to see that younger version of the person they met. In time, physical beauty fails all of us, but love is timeless. The writer’s message to the audience reinforced the fact that love is timeless regardless of the actors who portray Romeo and Juliet. The actors’ living together may be their reality, but we all know that the original Romeo and Juliet were never able to live together because their story was a tragedy.

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The fourth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Title 91!” (Or how many police shots does it take to kill two Black men?) performed by three actors. The setting was the police’s bedroom. The timing of this play was a good one because there have been too many high-profiling killings of Black men in the news lately. In the line of duty is a code most police officers live by on their jobs, but the writer allowed the audience to realize that the conscience of man is very fragile, and the police was unable to run away from himself. As the saying goes, a man can run but he can’t hide from his own deeds. In the officer’s case, he was unable to hide from his own conscience in the play; and he was definitely in conversation with the spirit of death explaining his actions. In many instances, police officers were exonerated by the laws of man for killing another person, typically a Black man; but the burden of taking a life usually rest heavily on their psyche other than the public’s opinion. The spirit of death will stay with a killer and haunts him as it did to the police in the play. There is never a quick fix after the shedding of blood. The writer showed the audience the torment and sleepless night of the perpetrator who still try to live by the gun to defend himself.

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The fifth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Match Play” performed by three actors. The writer capitalized on technology which enabled the audience to appreciate the stretching of the truth of some people in order to create a false profile online. In our society, some older women have been experiencing a hard time finding dates, so it was very refreshing to witness the bantering of an older woman and a younger man on stage. The setting was a restaurant and the older woman sat at the table. The younger man entered and he looked around while speaking very loud on his cell phone looking for his date. The older woman placed a vase with a red rose on the table moments later. After, the young man realized that she was not the female he saw
online, he tried to get an explanation from her. However, a conversation perused between them; and the lady was able to influence him why she was very deceptive in her tactics. He recognized that the face of the younger woman was just a ruse. It was youth verses experience, and the cougar won in the end. The setting of the play changed and the older woman got her wish; they were in a hotel room and she was dress in a very seductive outfit. The writer showed the audience that the younger man was a lamb to the slaughter because he was not her equal, and she capitalized on his lack of experience. The cougar used her charm to break down his defenses. In most instances, the truth doesn’t work without pretense for one or both parties because we are living in a very superficial culture. Where dating is concerned, too many people have crossed the line with trickery, and the internet has enabled them to get their wishes met. Creativity online through match play is just the tip of the iceberg. Meeting someone in a public place or through an acquaintance is still a great way to find someone, but the writer gave the audience an opportunity to decide on what is best for each person. Dating online cannot be a one-size fit all solution for society.

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The sixth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Bless me Father” performed by two actors. The setting was in a church and the play was very touching to the audience. Now, the audience saw a priest sitting in the church with a very pious looks. The mood changed when a young and hostile man entered and began to talk with him. Like any trained man of the cloth, the priest told the young man that he needed to seek absolution from God. The word angered the man. He told the priest that he needed a resolution in his case. The priest ignored the word, “resolution” and reminded the young man that he needed absolution instead. Being angered, the young man began to tell his life story to the priest about his molestation by him many years ago. The promise the priest made to his mother of taking him fishing never happened. The story surely jolted the priest’s memory of his heinous act. He informed the priest about the aftermath of his deeds and how his mother found out about what happened to him. By this time, the priest’s vocabulary changed; and the young man delved into all of the details about how he was shunned by his own father. The writer message to the audience confirmed how the priest’s sinful act became the catalyst for a series of disastrous results throughout this young victim’s life. Not too long ago, the Catholic Church had to acknowledge that many of its priests were pedophiles who were transferred from one church parish to another in order to conceal their wrong doings. However, the priest in the play surely did not receive absolution. The jury is still out on the subject of molestation in the Catholic Church, and it is up to the audience to secure the lives of young boys and girls from becoming victims.

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The first play of the B series of The Short Play Lab was “A Nice Card From Wendell” performed by three actors. The writer wanted the audience to know that keeping in touch with your parents or anyone else, via snail mail, doesn’t mean that they have to get a blow-by-blow explanation of the person’s life. Holding back information, half-truths, from your love ones can be a good thing in the lives of many people.

In the play, the writer wanted the audience see a mother making an announcement that she got a card from her son, Wendell. That was a great gesture on Wendell’s part because less is always more. In the scene, the audience saw Wendell being interviewed by a woman who wanted to thrust him into the sleazy Escort service business. Wendell’s naivety or his cleverness saved him from the interviewer’s attempt to lure him into an immoral world in a big city.

Wendell is still job hunting in the play. He had a second interview, and this time; the interviewer wanted to know if Wendell had stock room experience, but he was really looking for a hit man with experience of using a gun. The audience wanted to know how inexperienced can one person be in a city. Once again, Wendell comes out without a job; but he did not fall into the pit of misery in order to gain employment.

The writer allowed the audience to think about their own lives and welfare in similar circumstances. Relocating to large cities or other countries is not an easy task, when they have always been dishonest people running legitimate businesses to drag unsuspecting people into lives of depravity. The jury is still out on whether it is wise to give your parents or others a detailed report of your existence in a new environment.

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The second play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “In the Scheme of Things” performed by two actors. The writer gave the audience some food for thought in the message of the play. The setting was a park in my mind where a well-dressed and groomed man sat on a bench as he read his newspapers, news from around the world. A homeless man passed by and he fell in front of the other man with his shopping cart.

The homeless man cried out to the well-dressed man for help and he refused to give a helping hand to him. He was rude to the homeless and helpless man, and he acted as though his refusal was the law. He insinuated to the man on the ground that he was worthless and he did not deserve his assistance. The homeless man told him that he lost everything during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, Louisiana. The homeless man’s explanation did not faze the well-groomed man in anyway. He bombarded the homeless man with more insults.

The homeless man was determined to get his point across to the other man. He said that he relocated to New York City to be with his sister, but she became ill and died. He was unable to pay the rent and he ended up homeless. By the time, the homeless man tried to stand on his feet, and in so doing he found some money on the ground next to him.

The well-dressed man was not pleased with the homeless man’s discovery of the money. His response to homeless man was that God always tried to show him up. He well-dressed man was furious. With the finding of the money, the homeless man’s countenance changed as to say to the well-dressed man that God made a way out of nowhere. You got your chance to be a Good Samaritan and you blew it, Mr. Well-dressed man.

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The third play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Standing For Trayvon” performed by four actresses. The writer really touched the souls of the audience with a woman on stage portraying Trayvon Martin’s mother very distraught and her reluctance to become an activist at first for justice for her son. Although, Sybrina Fulton’s character was hesitant to move forward, and just wanted to mourn his lost; she was reminded by other mothers who had experienced the deaths of their own sons, too.

Now the portrayal of one of the women reminded her about the death of her son, Martin Luther King, Jr; and this performance brought a feeling of reverence over the audience. The writer proved to the viewers that the spirit can be energized to take great leaps of faith when it is necessary. The audience was of the age to have known that Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta King, was assassinated on June 30, 1974, just six years after her son, at the family church by Marcus Wayne Chennault, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia.

The writer wanted the audience to realize that despite our pain and tragedies, we all can rise to the occasion to represent our love ones. Trayvon Martin’s mother in the play had to embrace and wear the “hoody” to represent her son. Through violence, too many women of color had to rise to the occasion in the US and other countries in the world. There need to be a discourse about violence and the destruction of the youths with the use of gun fire.

Bravo, Sybrina Fulton! You stood up for your son, Trayvon Martin, for the world to see. I hope “Standing For Trayvon” is a preamble of a greater piece of work because the world can learn from the strength of this mother.

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The fourth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Books That Did Not Help Me Pick Up Women” performed by five actors. The writer picked a bar to be the setting for his stage play. Bars have always been a place to find or pick up a lover. However, there was this loser on stage who tried to find Miss Right through pretense by the use of literature. Like most unprepared suitor, this man was surely wooing in the wrong place.

The audience was entertained with the roller coaster ride of the desperado playing in traffic with his wanna-be bookish script, trying to pick up women without much luck to write home about. This was amusement for the audience, and the writer really gave those in attendance something to reflect on.

Searching for love shouldn’t be a scripted event. One needs to follow his or her heart for love. Mr. Desperado did not read this information carefully. His elementary erudite showed modest tenacity that was not quite good enough to find love and be on the same page with a woman he met in the bar.

The writer’s message to the audience was despite our current condition, he still performs miracles in our lives when we cry out to him. The homeless man cried out for help from man, but the great provider allowed him to fall on top of the money to supply his need for he is an on-time God.

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The fifth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Spooning” performed by one actor. This monologue was very interesting and the audience was able to get into the head of the writer. The setting was unusual but the audience surely discovered that the actor had a lot to say.

Being typecast as a spoon was a good thing on one hand, but the actress suffered for the art. She had to be one object in two different shows. The writer and actress wanted the audience to empathize with her. In my opinion, it’s employment and art converging together. That’s the sacrifice some people make to advance their careers whether it’s being a spoon or another item.

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The sixth play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Tourniquet” performed by two actresses. The writer explained in the dialogue between the two women how some people deal with hurt. The audience was mesmerized by their interaction and how they were there for each other to bring in the New Year.

Grief is not an easy emotion to release without the aid of a friend or love ones to listen to the person who is hurting. Moral support can be just the medicine the doctor ordered for the grieving parties. The healing process is a great thing!

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The seventh play of the series of The Short Play Lab was “Peanuts” performed by two actresses. The writer took the audience into the quick-fix world of science where there is no respect for meaningful research. The setting was an office where an older employee, a research scientist, was informed about the end of her project. The news was not well received by the aging scientist. The younger employee exerted her power with no regards for the humanity in the world of science.

The younger employee, now the new boss, showed her intolerance for quality work and the commitment for viable solutions. The older woman used her charm, and she was allowed to copy her data on a flash drive before she handed over her laptop to her supervisor. There was a cautionary tale in this play that employees must not leave their personal information on their job computers. It’s expedient to save all personal data on a portable hard drive.

FUN HOME: A Musical About Compromises, Which Bears the Marks of Compromises; A Consideration by Robert Gulack

FUN HOME:
A Musical About Compromises, Which Bears the Marks of Compromises
A Consideration by Robert Gulack

FUN HOME, now arriving on Broadway after its Public Theater premiere, is a remarkable show about the compromises people make; and then, finally, cannot make anymore. But the show itself, for all the obvious talent on display, has also made its compromises.

What follows is not a review of FUN HOME, but some notes on the differences between Alison Bechdel’s hilarious and heart-breaking graphic novel, and the current hilarious and heart-breaking musical version with book and lyrics adapted from Bechdel by Lisa Kron (and lovely music by Jeanine Tesori). Indeed, what follows contains a great many spoilers. So buy your tickets now for the musical, and read the graphic novel while you’re waiting to see the Broadway show. And then – when it can’t spoil your fun or interfere with the intensity of the emotions you will experience – read this essay. (If, by the way, this actually were a review you’re now reading, you would know it at once because I would be going on and on about the great performance delivered in this show by one of our most talented actor/singers, Michael Cerveris.)

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Dialing Down the Violence

There are three outstanding areas in which the musical differs from the original graphic novel. The first is that the novel makes clear that the father was physically abusive to his children. He was constantly striking them in unpredictable rages that had little or nothing to do with anything they’d actually done. The musical cleans this up, minimizing the abuse down to the level where we see the father threatening physical punishment, but we don’t actually see him inflicting it. (And, of course, the father’s threat is that the child will be punished for a very specific offense, if it occurs, not that the child will be slapped and struck at random.)

It is easy to understand that, in a musical which is daring to center on very tragic events involving the father, it would have been very risky to show just how harshly and randomly punitive the father was. The audience could easily have responded by dismissing the father as unworthy of any sympathy. (Indeed, given how wonderfully cute and charming the children are in the stage version, and how intimate the theater-in-the-round staging is, the audience might very well have leapt on stage to stop the father from smacking the kids, much like the legendary cowboy who drew his six-gun and ordered Othello to “leave the lady alone.”) Still, this begs the question, do we have a performing arts medium in which you would actually dare to ask the audience to rise to the moral level of having sympathy even for a child abuser? Would FUN HOME have to be an opera before it would have the courage to be that serious?

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Reaching Out to the Straight Male

Another aspect of FUN HOME that involves a considerable amount of courage, in commercial terms, is that it is joyously pro-lesbian. (Indeed, one of the best musical numbers, “I’m Changing My Major to Joan,” centers on the wonders of woman-on-woman lovemaking for a young lesbian who is allowing herself to express her actual sexual needs for the very first time.) In the graphic novel, however, it is made clear that both Alison Bechdel and her first sapphic love were both on the short-haired side.

This, too, is softened in the musical. Bechdel’s first woman lover has just the sort of long hair that would appeal to whatever fantasies the straight men in the audience would have about feminine-appearing lesbians making love. This casting comprises a very serious compromise with one of the most important moral commitments of the evening. The commonsense attitude has to be that lesbians are making love because they wish to make love with each other, not because they wish to foment sex fantasies in straight men. (Just as a lesbian bookstore might justifiably seek to dissuade straight men in search of thrills from thumbing through its pornography section, so it’s a little off-center for a lesbian-liberation musical to compromise by making Alison’s first lover so heteromale-friendly.) Still, all the other women in the show are either children too young, or married women too abused and down-trodden, to serve as the objects of wild male heterosexual fantasy. If you want any woman in the show to be attractive to whatever straight men happened to have wandered in, it has to be Alison’s first lover. And so the show makes that choice.

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Going Easy on Child Labor

It is less clear why the musical minimizes the extent to which the father forced his children to spend their childhoods restoring antique furnishings in the family’s period home. The graphic novel makes it clear that the children spent a great deal of time in very hard labor. Dad was working very hard at it, too, but it was Dad who was going to win the architectural awards for the results, not his kids. And Dad had entered into the whole project voluntarily, which makes all the difference.

The musical does begin with the children doing an emergency neatening of the house before the unexpected arrival of a prestigious visitor interested in restored homes – but it is one thing to be roped into a one-time straightening-up and quite another to be forced to spend years on the same project. In the musical, we hear the father complaining that no one ever helps him with the restoration work, and claiming that he basically did it himself. It should be more clear than it is that the father’s complaints and claims are totally off-base.

This alteration is little harder to understand. What could be more natural than a musical number for the whole family about the labor of communally cleaning and polishing? Perhaps the creators of the show felt this would be a bit repetitious of the opening – but the show is, after all, called FUN HOME, which announces that the house itself will be a major player in what we are about to see. It would certainly not be a waste of time for the audience to see how much credit the kids can take for bringing this outrageous museum of a home into existence — how much of their lives were dragooned into fulfilling their father’s fantasies.

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A Rare Level of Achievement

FUN HOME, from start to finish, delivers a wonderful feeling of freshness and realism. Even when the characters are singing — indeed, especially when the characters are singing — the audience feels that they are actually in the actual home with this family, and the tragic weight of the family’s situation left me sitting after the show, crying quietly. So don’t miss this one. But think, too, about the forces that lead even the most highly principled artists to compromise now and then.

ROBERT GULACK holds an MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, where he studied with Mamet and Kopit. He is the author of numerous plays seen in NYC, including CHURCHILL IN ATHENS, SIX HUSBANDS OF ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, and the award-winning ONE THOUSAND AND ONE.