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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
--The Original Review by Elyse Sommer--
"So I have amnesia -- that's very inconvenient" declares Claire (J. Smith-Cameron) upon waking to yet another blank slate day. To be more specific her amnesia is "psychogenic" a type that keeps erasing memory on a day to day basis.
Claire seems remarkably matter of fact in the face of not knowing the man who says he is her husband (Robert Stanton), or the surly eighth grader (Keith Nobbs) who she is told is her son. This revelation leaves her more puzzled than shocked -- "He's big -- how much did he weigh at birth?" She compares a snapsot of herself to her image in a hand mirror with the same matter of fact calm, declaring that she does indeed look much happier now than the "pathetically sad-looking woman" in the photo. That photo and Claire's calling her husband Phillip instead of Richard are clues to Claire's story though you'll probably forget about them as her "inconvenient" situation erupts into insanity. What could easily turn into a sudsy dysfunctional family saga instead becomes Claire Through the Looking Glass -- to be more precise, the funny mirror -- or, as her stroke impaired mom would call it, "fuddy meer. "
If you like your plays neat and orderly, with everything progressing in logical order, Fuddy Meers is not for you. Its prevailing mood is manic, its characters tend towards oddball bizarre. The plot spins wildly out of control with Act 1 ending in total bedlam. However, if you're ready to suspend belief and simply enjoy an imaginative mind at work, you'll have a belly-full of laughs.
What the play is about, besides the set-up situation of Claire's amnesia, almost defies description. When the concerned husband and the son who says to the father "why don't you die?" leave Claire to her seek-a-word puzzle, a weird limping man with a ski mask (Patrick Breen) enters. He insists that he is her brother Zack and that her husband is dangerous. So, off they go over the highway to mom's house (Mary Louise Burke) where "stroke speak" turns out to be no less incomprehensible than anything said by Zack, his crony Millett (Mark McKinney) and his puppet alter ego; not to mention the husband and son who come after them with a highway cop (Lisa Gorlitsky) who, like everyone else, is not the person who first meets your eye.
The success of Fuddy Meer owes a major debt to its impeccable staging. Under the expert direction of David Petrarca the seven member cast soars through the script's most manic flights of fancy with performances of dazzling visual and verbal skill. Humor of this sort is difficult to pull off without falling into the trap of cartoonishness. As brilliantly played by Mark McKinney even the bizarre Millet and his outspoken puppet sidestep this danger -- when the puppet succumbs to a kitchen knife, the death scene is allowed to go on just long enough to be almost touching. Fortunately, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's characters also retain enough of a solid core of reality and sadness to make them truly funny. This is particularly true of J. Smith-Cameron's beautifully realized tragi-comic heroine. Ken Nobbs as her drugged out son imbues his part with just the right degree of sweetness and pain to make us wish he was more often on stage.
The behind-the-scenes creatives are on a par with the actors. Santo Loquasto's set is fiendishly amusing and beautifully lit by Brian MacDeVITT -- the toy car that periodically moves across a stage rear highway get laughs, but unlike Robin Wagner's in Saturday Night Fever, for all the right reasons. Jason Robert Brown's snappy original music indicates that the Tony-winning composer of Parade, may well enjoy a flourishing secondary career as a creator of incidental music for straight plays.
The very best thing to be said for Fuddy Meers is that it takes a giant step towards dispelling current pessimism about the state of the theater. Mr. Lindsay-Abaire proves that fresh talent is alive and well and that rumors of the death of all theater except the tried and true are decidedly premature.