Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 2:42 pm
By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
“Stability,” according to one of the characters lost in the funhouse that is “Fuddy Meers,” “is a fragile figurine.”
That figurine gets smashed to smithereens in the first few seconds of David Lindsay-Abaire’s farcical black comedy, when a man who calls himself Richard wakes Claire, and informs her of a few things: That he is Claire’s husband, that the surly, foul-mouthed kid rifling through Claire’s handbag is her son Kenny, and that each morning Claire wakes up to a brand new world, thanks to her suffering from “psychogenic amnesia.”
And then there’s the masked man with the limp and the lisp who comes out from under the bed the minute Richard is gone, claiming to be her brother Zach, arrived to rescue Claire from certain death at the hand of man who says he’s her husband.
“Fuddy Meers” is the sort of play you would get if you took the dark absurdist comedies of Christopher Durang and cross-pollinated it with one of the Coen Brothers’ wackier films about soft-headed criminal lowlifes.
Everyone has secrets, including Claire, although her secrets aren’t ones she’s keeping but trying to discover. Bits and pieces of her life have been collected in a book that Richard shares with her, but it’s obviously incomplete.
However, the people around her — be it the hyper-perky Richard, the unreasonably angry Kenny, the putative long-lost brother Zach or his confederate Millet, who has an unusual attachment to a raunchy hand-puppet called Hinky Binky — aren’t willing to fill in those gaps.
It will take the appearance of a most unprofessional lady cop named Heidi and a gathering of all and sundry at the home of Claire’s aphasia-afflicted mother Gertie before all the plots unravel and Claire finds out — for better or for worse — what sort of mess has been made of her life.
“Fuddy Meers” is one of the earliest plays by Lindsay-Abaire, who is best-known for dramas such as “Good People” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rabbit Hole.”
And “Fuddy Meers” is pure farce. While there is an undercurrent of sweetness to the idea that even the most despicable people are capable of changing for the better, it hardly counts as a “message.”
Which means “Fuddy Meers” is a play whose success is totally dependent on what the cast brings to the proceedings.
The cast, made up of stalwarts from the Midwestern Theater Troupe and Odeum Theatre Company, does that in spades.
Sara Cruncleton virtually disappears into the character of Gertie, a woman whose age and affliction — a stroke has affected her speech so that she’s almost impossible to understand — do not limit her intelligence and resourcefulness. Her performance embodies all of this, and she gives Gertie’s “word salad” dialogue with unnerving ease.
As Zach, Will Carpenter puts on an amazing display of physical comedy. His character doesn’t so much limp as be engaged in an ongoing battle with his right leg, which the rest of his body is apparently trying to reject. He also manages to find a sweetness in this character, who is one of those trying to be good, even though his way of proving this is to commit a number of felonies.
Whitson Hanna is obviously having a grand time as Millet, the overly nervous, overly talky henchman, who is too often at the mercy of the scrap of fabric on his right hand.
As Claire, Erin Scarberry goes from forced cheeriness to frightened frustration to despairing acceptance seamlessly. John Cruncleton rarely allows the mask of self-imposed good humor to slip from Richard’s face, Leslie Long camps it up as the cop Heidi and Knox Blakely is a slip of inchoate rage as Kenny.
Angela Adams stages the action well, although some of the gun-waving scenes need more space to be believable.
John Cruncleton designs the multi-level set, which makes the most of the Nightingale’s spatial limitations, and Jeff Whitlach handled the lights and sound.
“Fuddy Meers” continues with performances at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and June 3-4 at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $10 at the door.
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478