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Patio Playhouse’s ‘Fun Home’ will sing the songs of Alison Bechdel’s life

ESCONDIDO – When writer, cartoonist and “Dykes to Watch Out For” creator Alison Bechdel was 19, she came out to her parents as a lesbian. Not long after, Bechdel’s gay father, Bruce, stepped into the path of a delivery truck and died. The tragedy of her childhood and coming to terms with both her sexuality as well as her father’s apparent suicide is the underpinning of “Fun Home,” Patio Playhouse’s upcoming 2020 production.

“Fun Home” is a Broadway musical based on Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” adapted by Lisa Krone and Jeanine Tesori. Patio Playhouse’s Artistic Manager Matt Fitzgerald serves as the play’s director. Initially drawn to the production by Tesori’s score, which he calls “fantastic,” he also found himself relating on some level to some of the characters.

“It’s easy as a father to see … as unkind as it might sound, to see a little bit of Bruce in myself, and have that egg me on become a better father, a better person,” he said, though he feels that he does not go to the same extremes.

“Not to normalize (Alison’s) story, but the feeling of being an outsider, in high school or in college is, I think, relatable to most people. And that’s Middle Alison’s story … the awkwardness of discovering who you are and relating that to your life.”

Bechdel is depicted in three stages of her life by three separate actresses: the child Small Alison (Emma Delaware), the college student Middle Alison (Caitlin Groome) and middle-aged cartoonist Alison (Dani Leandra). Fitzgerald hailed the actresses’ skills and their effort to inform each other about the character. He said he believes that whatever differences are visible in their respective performances will reflect on the growth of Alison as a person.

To reflect the source material’s graphic novel origins, some of the props used in the play will be images drawn by some of the cast, as well as (possibly) pieces of some of Bechdel’s artwork. “We’re trying to match her style as best as possible with all of our props and stuff,” Fitzgerald said.

The production will serve as Patio’s second musical in a row after “Miracles of the Season,” but two key things will set it apart from that production. First, instead of playing pre-recorded tracks, there will be a seven-piece orchestra in the black box theater. Second, there will be “alley seating,” meaning there will be bleachers set up across from the ordinary seats. Thus, managing the sound became the biggest design challenge of the play.

Fitzgerald says that even if audience members don’t relate to Bechdel herself, they can still find meaning and enjoyment in a story about family.

“I think there’s a lot of people who have found a home in this show,” he said. “A relatability, particularly those in the LGBT community, specifically young lesbian or bisexual women have found a protagonist in the show they can relate to specifically, rather than generally.”

“But really, it’s a difficult but fantastic story with a beautiful score.”

The show will play at Patio Playhouse’s black box theater on Kalmia Street in Escondido from Jan. 17 to Feb. 9, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $44.