“Fuddy Meers,” onstage now at Theatre in the Park and directed by Jesse R. Gephart, is a perplexing play, one in which nothing is as it seems and everything, including the title (which refers to one character’s mispronunciation of the phrase “funny mirrors”) is a strange distortion of reality. At least, that’s how things seem at first. A close viewing reveals that the play actually does tell a lot of not-so-distorted truths—truths about the handicaps that abuse leaves behind and about what can happen if we don’t allow ourselves to learn from the past.
Though that description makes it sound as though “Fuddy Meers” is a serious and seriously dark show, it’s actually quite the opposite. What writer David Lindsay-Abaire has done so brilliantly here is to take very dark subject matter and to transpose it into something quite comedic; he has, if you will, reflected the story through a “funny mirror.”
The action starts when Claire (Page Purgar) wakes up one morning with no memory to speak of. Her husband Richard (Eric Morales) patiently explains that she has a form of psychogenic amnesia that causes her to wake up as a “blank slate” every day. He leaves Claire alone with a book that will help explain it all and, out of nowhere, the Limping Man (Brian Yandle) pops out, claims her husband is trying to kill her, and whisks her away to her mother, Gertie’s (Maggie Rasnick), home. The Limping Man is soon joined by his childlike friend Millet (Justin Brent Johnson) and the puppet Millet always keeps close at hand (literally). While Claire tries desperately to piece together her life and to discover who is telling her the truth, her husband and son, Kenny (Darian Colson Dorafshar), set out to find her and bring her back home.
As one might imagine with this crazy cast of characters, hilarity ensuses. Gertie is a stroke victim and uses mangled “stroke speech, “which leads to some wonderfully uncomfortable humor—the kind that makes viewers feel bad for laughing. Also, the juxtaposition of sweet, innocent Millet and his raunchy, potty-mouthed puppet make for some of the funniest moments in the show. While things often get crazy on stage—particularly so in a scene at the end of the first act where all of the characters are running around wildly—Gephart maintains organized chaos and never leaves his audience feeling lost.
Stephen J. Larson’s revolving set serves as a perfect backdrop to this mildly disconcerting and fabulously entertaining show. Gertie’s kitchen, for example, is covered in dizzying, circus-like wallpaper that perfectly mirrors Claire’s confusion. In fact, the entire production causes the viewer to step right into Claire’s shoes and to try and unravel the truth right along with her.
All members of the cast are on-point. Purgar’s Claire is infinitely likeable despite her cluelessness, and Rasnick still manages to convey meaning through her jumbled speech. Dorafshar adds real intensity to his role as Kenny, but it is Johnson who is the real standout. Going from raging puppeteer to an endearing sweetheart in rapid-fire style proves no problem for him, and his character easily wheedles his way into the viewer’s heart.
While the onstage action calls for laughter every few minutes, the show’s more tender musings are also there for the taking. This is a play that encourages viewers to challenge the things they accept as normal, especially those things that could ultimately have results much more lasting and damaging than might be evident right away. It is a show with an underlying moral, one that is beautifully and very subtly delivered: those who don’t learn from the past will keep making the same mistakes in the future, and those mistakes will, in turn, impact future generations.
Theatre in the Park presents FUDDY MEERS at 7:30 p.m. June 20-22, 3 p.m. June 23, 7:30 p.m. June 28 and 29, and 3 p.m. June 30 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $22 ($16 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $15 per ticket for groups of 10+.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://www.theatreinthepark.com/group_sales.php.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
Fuddy Meers (1999 play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2895 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuddy_Meers (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.thepublictheatre.org/education/study_guides/2001-02/Fuddy_Meers.html (The Public Theatre, Lewiston, ME).
David Lindsay-Abaire (playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lindsay-Abaire (Wikipedia).
Jesse R. Gephart (director): https://www.facebook.com/jrgephart (Facebook page).