Fuddy Meers shows the comedy of tragedy
It's typical for a farce to end its first act on a moment of absolute lunacy, leaving the second half of the play to ratchet up the intensity and, eventually, unpack everything that has happened to find some kind of conclusion.
That is precisely what unfolds in David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers, which gets a solid production — even if the script is a little rough around the edges — by Loudmouth Collective this month at Nimbus Theatre. The ribald play tackles issues of abuse, regret, and loss with the velocity and impact of an out-of-control freight train. Written at the beginning of Lindsay-Abaire's career, it showcases the kind of tough insight that would make his later works, Rabbit Hole and Good People, successes.
That doesn't mean this is a perfect show. Balancing big comedy and grotesque tragedy is a tough job, and Lindsay-Abaire doesn't quite pull it off. Thankfully, the full-bore pace of the play and the talented cast of actors smooth over those concerns, at least until after the show is over.
The play centers on Claire, a woman who wakes up one morning with no memory at all. It turns out she has woken up this way every morning for years, as she suffers from a rare form of amnesia. She meets a nice man who identifies himself as her husband, a surly teenager who says he is her son, and — once the others leave the room — a man in a ski mask, who emerges from beneath the bed and claims to be her brother. Zachary has a limp, a lisp, and a horribly deformed ear, and like most things in Fuddy Meers, the truth of his relationship with Claire is a lot darker than what we see on the surface.
His arrival sets off a string of wild revelations, though not all at once; barriers to communication not only obfuscate the truth behind all of the characters' relationships, but also suggest how difficult discovering the "truth" can be. Claire cannot effectively communicate because she can't remember, and her mother, after a recent stroke, is nearly impossible to understand because her words come out garbled.
Noe Tallen leads the cast as Claire. She presents a chipper facade at first, even as she gets dragged into a world of manipulation by those around her, but as the day goes along and she discovers what has happened to her, a fully fledged character emerges. The tragedy, of course, is that it may be erased in the morning, just like every other day.
Tallen plays off a trio of others — Matt Sciple as the dangerous Zachary (or Limping Man, as he is described in the program), Leif Jurgensen as the committed husband Richard, and Karen Wiese-Thompson as Claire's tongue-tied mother Gertie. Wiese-Thompson gets the toughest task here, as we can only understand her in places, though the gist of what she means always gets through.
Director Natalie Novacek works well with the company to bridge the gap between comedy and tragedy, making the show funny and hard to watch at the same time. Even characters who appear to be little more than jokes — like Millet and his hand-puppet Hinky Binky (Paul Rutledge) or terminally stoned Kenny (Spencer Harrison Levin) — grow in depth as the show unfolds, and the actors match that well, adding to their performances until the full impact is much more than a night of screwball comedy.
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