Search for Meaning
There are two observations I can make about the Curious Theatre Company's dark-themed farce, Fuddy Meers: I laughed out loud several times during the performance, but afterward, I couldn't figure out the point.
Claire (Ethelyn Friend), the play's preternaturally chipper protagonist, wakes every morning to a world washed clean. She has no memory of her life. She's re-introduced -- with an apparent minimum of worry and fuss -- to her everyday existence by her husband, Richard (Erik Sandvold), who has actually prepared a book for her that contains instructions, photographs and a map of the house. But once Richard has left the room, Claire is accosted by a lisping, limping masked man who insists that she's in peril and must flee with him immediately. She obliges, and he whisks her off to the home of stroke-afflicted Gertie, whom he identifies as her mother. Fragments of Claire's memory begin to return. Millet (Frank Oden), a man attached to a chatty hand puppet, appears. He seems to have a connection to the Limping Man: They're each wearing half of the same set of handcuffs. Meanwhile, husband Richard, along with Claire's sullen son, Kenny (an effective performance by Todd Webster), have begun a hot pursuit.
The script of Fuddy Meers has the kind of deranged rhythm and craftsmanship -- action piled on action, joke on joke -- that I associate with classic farce, or with plays like Michael Frayn's busy, marvelous Noises Off, and it amuses in the same visceral way. But the content is much grimmer. We know it was something terrible that caused Claire to lose her memory, something to do with wife battery, but we can't figure out whom to trust. The Limping Man has a hideously deformed ear, is deaf and blind on one side and is constantly suppressing or failing to suppress a simmering rage. Genial Richard, too, has his dark side. Even cheery, babbling Gertie has a homicidal streak. There's all kinds of violence on stage, though it's the cartoon kind, where the victim instantly bounces back into action.
Fuddy Meers isn't just a fast and furious phantasmagoria (is that a contradiction in terms?) or an absurdist exercise. It has a plot, even if it's a demented one -- and even if bits of it keep either fading away or falling off.
It might be unreasonable to ask that this vigorously bubbling stew possess some point, but the play keeps promising one. It hints continually at symbolism and deeper truth. Every character, including mindlessly genial Claire and Millet's puppet, has a sinister side. Is author David Lindsay-Abaire suggesting that this is essential human nature, that we're all endlessly engaged in suppressing unspeakable impulses? Does the play comment on memory? There should be something evocative in Claire's daily efforts to reconstruct herself, and the ending of the play -- which happily foils expectation -- leaves us wondering whether she'll remember anything of her day the next morning. But we don't really care if she does or doesn't. The characters' speech oddities remind us of the links among speech, cognition, memory and self, and they hint at deeper meaning, but that meaning never reveals itself -- though one does leave the theater wanting to pun and finding giggly humor in ordinary words.
A couple of faintly haunting discussions take place in Fuddy Meers: Gertie shows photographs of reflections in a fairground funhouse mirror ("fuddy meers" is her way of saying "funny mirrors"); Claire talks of a mortally injured dog she once tried to save that recovered to scamper joyously around the kitchen for three minutes before lying down and dying. Perhaps the dog represents Claire herself. But none of these stories or images really illuminates the play.
Though at first I feared that her chirpiness would wear thin, Friend is very good as Claire and soon reveals a more feelingful side. Christopher Leo does sterling service as the snarling yet pathetic Limping Man, and Kathryn Gray is a delight as the mother, stomping around her kitchen like the Little Engine That Could. Except, of course, that she can't.
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