The title is Fun Home, but ask Susan Moniz, who plays the mother of the title character in the national tour of the 2015-winning Tony Award-winning musical, the word fun is not the first word she associates performing in it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s fun,” says Moniz, a veteran member of the bustling Chicago theater scene. “I don’t have many fun moments in this show. But it’s incredibly rewarding to do. This is the kind of the show that resonates on so many levels, and to hear real, honest people come up to me afterwards and they are in tears and say ‘you just put on my life,’ is so touching and important and beautiful.”
Fun Home, written by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron is a coming-of-age tale: sort of. The main character, Alison, is played by three actresses at three distinct stages of her life: as a 9 year old, a college freshman, and a grown woman, a professional cartoonist working on her illustrated memoir. It is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, and relates the grown Alison exploring her upbringing and maturation, particularly her sexuality and her relationship with her complicated and troubled father, an English teacher who also runs the family’s Victorian funeral home, which Alison and her two brothers call “the fun home.”
Moniz plays Alison’s mother, and interacts with her two younger incarnations. Though not one of the lead roles, it’s a critical one, as she strives to maintain some kind of balance in a family that, like so many families, seems picture-postcard, but is breaking around the edges. An aspiring actress, she chooses to put that dream on hold in order to raise three children and be with a man whose self-deception fools everybody but her.
Now 10 months and more than 300 performances in, Moniz says that even though this is a play about characters grappling with their sexuality, she has learned through the experience that it’s really about any person attempting to sort through the tapestry of their lives by looking back on the significant threads that helped create it.
“It’s a natural thing for all of us to explore our formative years, our growing-up years, and this show makes you think even more about that,” she says. “As children, we don’t have the clarity or experience, or maturity to know why things were done a certain way, or to understand the truth of a situation. and I have found myself calling my sister and asking her what she remembers about a particular incident, because this is how I remember it.”
But Fun Home is also absolutely a play about sexuality, which has become so politicized in Trump America, Moniz says she believes that just as the show may help those questioning why they feel a certain way, it also offers a different perspective to those who choose to not understand, or tolerate, other people’s perspectives.
“One of my favorite points of the show is when Young Alison Alison sings Ring of Keys,” she says. “It is the most purest, innocent and honest revelation that this child goes through. She doesn’t understand what she’s feeling, but it’s so pure and not manufactured. She is truly feeling from the heart. It’s done in the sweetest way and I think it crosses all boundaries. It’s really very simple and beautiful seeing it through a child’s eyes.”
But ultimately, Moniz feels, the play is less about sexuality and more about “relationships and the family dynamic, something we call all relate to. We all go back and look back at our lives as children when we are are adults. It’s the kind of self-exploration we all do, and that’s what the main character is going through, and I think that is what really resonates with most people.”
Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787. Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29. www.scfta.org.