The circle game

Befuddlement rules in Fuddy Meers
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 20, 2008
Fuddy-Kneeland,INSIDE2
CHANNELING RAGE Jonathan Jacobs as
Zachery in Fuddy Meers.

You know how it is. Some days it’s like you’ve learned nothing at all, as though you’re starting all over again, a Groundhog Day without the benefit of hindsight. David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers, at 2nd Story Theatre through June 8, may inflict vexing déjà vu of such mornings, but it’s also a very funny reminder that laughter can make such absurdity almost worthwhile.

Claire (Barbara McElroy) suffers from a psychogenic amnesia that has her waking in bed each morning with no knowledge of who she is. As the story opens, her doting husband Richard (Wayne Kneeland) shows her a book he has prepared that details such matters as her name, the floor plan of the house, and photos of people in her life, such as their fumingly surly son, Kenny (Christopher O’Brien).

But things are being kept from her. Director Ed Shea has Kneeland do an exaggerated shock take for us when Claire observes that amnesia is usually caused by sudden physical or psychological trauma. We have a suspenseful little point of information to look forward to.

The title of the play is a garbled pronunciation of “funny mirrors,” those carnival funhouse features that distort what the naïve and ill-informed call “reality.” That’s what they’re called by Claire’s mother, Gertie (Paula Faber), whose stroke-induced aphasia causes her to spout phrases and occasionally whole sentences in jabberwocky.

The other people in Claire’s life are no less disoriented. That is, of course, their whole point in this snapshot metaphor of the way our days are continuous unfoldings and re-crumplings of the pictures of our surroundings and co-confused inmates.

She meets the first such person when Richard steps out of the bedroom. The frantic limping man wearing a ski mask (F. William Oakes) isn’t a burglar but her brother Zachery, he says, come to rescue her. He seems so sincere that she leaves with him.

We journey with Claire in her woebegone wonderland, encountering characters easily as weird as a hookah-smoking caterpillar. Her mother, with her malapropisms, verbal dyslexia, and speech im-pediment, could be shouting “Off with her head!” and we’d never know it. Faber makes sure we understand what we need to, but the playwright and Shea want us to be at least a little confused with Claire.

And then there’s Millet (Jonathan Jacobs), Zachery’s mild-mannered co-conspirator, who channels all his negative emotions and rage through a foul-mouthed sock puppet doggie named Hinkey-Dinkey. The last character we meet is Heidi (Amy Thompson), a highway cop who pulls over Claire’s husband and son when they are speeding amidst a cloud of pot smoke. Needless to say, she isn’t who she says she is, but what else is new?

In introducing Fuddy Meers before each show, artistic director Shea points out that Lindsay-Abaire’s absurdist sensibility is much like the playwright’s black comedy colleague Christopher Durang. But Lindsay-Abaire, who won the 2007 drama Pulitzer for Rabbit Hole, shows here that he’s better at the nuts-and-bolts construction of a play. Carefully withheld information and character revelations propel the story. While Fuddy doesn’t neatly tie up every loose end, those left dangling are mostly incidental and supplement the life lesson here, that we never really know for sure what (or who) we know, so we might as well just calm down and be amused.

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