Something Fuddy going on here

Apr 06

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Andrew Hurteau and Mollie Stickney great the day with resolve and a blank slate in the Marin Theatre Company production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers. Below: Stickney with the puppet Hinky Binky. Photos by Kevin Berne

The world of David Lindsay-Abaire is askew. From his earliest wacky comedies to his later, more serious award-winning work, Lindsay-Abaire’s “askewniverse” (to borrow a word from Kevin Smith’s oeuvre) is filled with people on the outside of perceived normal life, people who are, for whatever reason, struggling just to make themselves understood.

In Shrek the Musical it’s a green ogre who takes a while to figure out that even though he’s not a handsome prince, he’s actually a hero. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole it’s a mother numbed by grief slowly rebuilding a life and marriage after the death of her young son.

And in Fuddy Meers, Lindsay-Abaire’s first produced play (written while he was still in grad school at Juilliard), it’s an exceedingly cheerful woman named Claire who suffers from psychogenic amnesia.

It’s like Drew Barrymore in the movie 50 First Dates (produced five years after Fuddy Meers by the way): every morning she wakes up a blank slate. She has no memory of her life or the people in it. The thought of that affliction sounds somewhat terrifying, but both Drew in the movie and Claire, the hero of the play, seem quite content to orient themselves to their lives and get on with their days.

In both cases, they have helpful people around to speed the process. In Claire’s case, she has her husband, Richard, who has created a binder of helpful hints to fill in the giant blank of Claire’s life.

In addition to Richard, Claire also has a 17-year-old son, Kenny, who seems to be having some difficulty graduating the eighth grade. With every day the first day of your life, the possibilities of a fresh start are practically endless, though you have a lot of fresh-starting to do before bedtime comes and wipes the slate clean again.

Marin Theatre Company’s production of Fuddy Meers has the great advantage of having Mollie Stickney in the role of Claire. In the play’s nearly two hours, Claire’s blank slate becomes surprisingly full, and every revelation, recovered memory, moment of joy or pain registers on Stickney’s wonderfully expressive face.

As luck (and the playwright) would have it, we meet Claire on a particularly dramatic day in her usually placid life. Very soon after waking and discovering that she has no memories, Claire meets two men: her husband (played with loving, somewhat frustrated gusto by Andrew Hurteau) and a masked stranger claiming to be someone from her past.

This limping, lisping guy is played by Tim True, whose performance is at once scary and hilarious – no mean feat.

Once this guy limps in, the rest, as they say in comedy, is mayhem.

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To reveal any more about the plot would be a crime, and I’d have to administer an amnesiac drug. There are surprises galore here – some delightful, some rather contrived.

But I will say that there are some sparkling performances in director Ryan Rilette’s production. Joan Mankin as Gertie, Claire’s mom, is at once touching and hysterically funny. Gertie is recovering from a stroke and suffers from word-twisting aphasia. She can almost make herself understood – more in tone than in word.

It’s from Gertie that the play gets its title. That’s her way of saying “funny mirrors” like in a carnival funhouse, which is what this play resembles in its twisted, contorting version of family life.

Lance Gardner is Millet, a colleague of the limping man’s who has a penchant for a hand puppet named Hinky Binky. Gardner’s somewhat schizophrenic performance is equal parts funny, disturbing and sympathetic.

Not all of the rhythms in Rilette’s production work – some of the transitions in Eric Flatmo’s set from kitchen to basement, take too long and slow the comic flow. Act 1 ends with a bang (literally) but without as much rapport between characters and audience as you might hope to find.

But it’s not all about comedy here, and that’s why Act 2 is so much more rewarding. There’s a pall of sadness hovering just over the chaos, and a lot of that has to do with the son, Kenny (a touching, angry Sam Leichter, losing his mom every day.

The final scene of Fuddy Meers brings the emotion to the forefront. Things may be twisted and tiled in David Lindsay-Abaire’s world, but when it comes right down to it, even people approaching life from different angles still just want to connect.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers continues through April 24 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $33-$53. Call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org for information.

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