A ‘wholly original musical’

Three actresses portray same character in Ferndale Rep's production of 'Fun Home'

Pictured from left are Karsyn Hammer, Kiara Hammer and Molly Severdia, each playing the main character, Allison, at different ages in the musical “Fun Home” opening this coming week at Ferndale Rep. (Courtesy of Leira V. Satlof)
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Three local actresses are bringing graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s life to the stage in Ferndale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Fun Home.”

The show, sponsored by Open Door Community Health Centers, opens Thursday and then runs weekends through Feb. 16.

The one-act musical, based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir (told in comic-strip format) of the same name, was originally adapted for the stage by playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori. It is being directed locally by Ferndale Rep Artistic Producing Director Leira V. Satlof.

Karsyn Hammer, Kiara Hudlin and Molly Severdia each portray Bechdel at three different stages of her life.

“What attracted me to all three of these actors is they are really grounded performers, each with a strong skill set and a desire to grow as actors,” Satlof said. “They each have a very good ear, both for music and dialogue, and are exceptionally focused on the storytelling. And, each one of them have beautiful and expressive voices. As a director, I could not ask for better partners in working on bringing this deep and difficult material to the stage.”

Bechdel — who is also an award-winning cartoonist — published “Fun Home” in June 2006. The memoir went on to receive myriad accolades, from being named Time Magazine’s No. 1 Book of the Year to being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Memoir.

The musical “Fun Home” — which Satlof describes as “a refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes” — won five Tony Awards in 2015, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

“Alison Bechdel is a real person. … She wrote an autobiographical graphic novel called ‘Fun Home,’ which was about her household growing up,” Satlof said. “Her father was a closeted gay man and, when she came out as a lesbian in college, he committed suicide. Whether those two things are related to one other is unknown and continues to be unknown, but she explores her childhood household as an adult. It’s a memory play.”

The musical follows her as she’s working on the book “Fun Home.”

“We’re watching her actually create the book and, as she’s doing that, she’s remembering her childhood and remembering relationships. … We see her remembering her college years when she came out as a lesbian and we see her remembering her household,” Satlof said.

“To do this play well,” she said, “you really have to commit to what these characters are going through, and what they’re going through are not easy things.”

The musical focuses on three stages of Bechdel’s life — when she was a child, the college years and as an adult penning her memoir. “Small Allison,” as the character is called, is played by Hammer, “Medium Allison” is portrayed by Hudlin and “Allison” (the adult) is played by Severdia.

Severdia — who has been familiar with the musical since it hit Broadway — enjoys listening to the “Fun Home” soundtrack and has also read the book.

“For me, it really speaks to me on a personal level and also from a place of a lot of my friends are in the LGBTQ community. I think it’s a really powerful play and the music is beautiful and I felt compelled to be a part of it,” said Severdia.

“The way it’s written, it’s one person’s story,” Severdia said. “But, her experiences are so universal.”

She added: “I hope everybody comes away thinking about something maybe from a different perspective than they have before.”

Severdia, 39, started performing as a child with the Humboldt Light Opera Company and now does several shows a year with different theater groups. Some of the local productions she’s been in include “Anything Goes,” “Into the Woods” and “Rent.”

Hudlin call the “Fun Home” story “beautiful” and says the music is “incredible.”

“I knew that playing this part would challenge me as an actress,” she said. “It’s powerful, incredible.”

Hudlin, 19, started performing when she was 7 years old. She moved from San Diego to Arcata to attend Humboldt State University and has performed in several local productions, including “Evil Dead the Musical” and “Heathers the Musical” at HSU and Ferndale Rep’s “Smokey Joe’s Café.”

Hammer — who has performed with Ferndale Rep and Main Stage Musicals — said “Fun Home” is “really different than all of the other shows I’ve been in.”

“It has been a good experience,” Hammer said. “… It’s really cool to see the different ways that they (Severdia and Hudlin) take the character.”

Ferndale Rep’s “Fun Home” also features Daniel Baer as Bruce, Cynthia Martells as Helen, Paul VandenBranden as Christian, Jacob Hendrickson as John David, Keenan Hilton in various roles and Sienna Anderson as Joan.

“Fun Home” begins Thursday with a preview performance and “talk back,” followed by performances Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays through Feb. 16. Tickets are $10 for the preview show. All other performances are $18 general, $16 for students (15-college), $16 for seniors (60-plus) and $10 for youth (ages 3-14). A $2 Historical Building Preservation Fee will be added to eachticket. Satlof says that since the musical deals with mature subject matter, “parents should familiarize themselves with the story before bringing children.”

To purchase tickets or for more information, go to www.ferndalerep.org, call 707-786-5483 or stop by the theater box office at 447 Main St. in Ferndale beginning a half-hour before curtain time.

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