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‘Fuddy Meers’: a show as twisted at is it brilliant

By Juliette Martin

Section: Arts, Featured

March 16, 2012

“Fuddy Meers,” written by David Lindsay-Abaire, first premiered in 1999. This week, it has come to Brandeis, presented by Brandeis Experimental Theatre (BET) and directed by Michelle Kuchinksy ’12. “Fuddy Meers” presents the thoroughly twisted story of Claire (played by Jackie Theoharis ’14), a woman who wakes up each morning with no memory of who she is. She awakens to an overly-nervous husband, Richard (Herbie Rosen ’12), and a deeply troubled son, Kenny (Neal Rabinowitz ’13), neither of whom she recognizes. Despite the obvious tragedy of a woman with no memory, it begins humorously enough: Claire seems brightly to accept her lot, and seems quite happy and friendly, if rather addled.
The clues that not all is well, however, assault the watcher almost immediately. Claire, upon looking at the photo album of memories that Richard has prepared for her, remarks on how sad she looked, and continually calls her husband Richard “Phillip,” a mistake at which he seems to bristle. These clues, easily overlooked at first, become suddenly important when a masked man claiming to be Claire’s brother, Zach, (credited as “limping man” and played by Peter Charland ’14) appears from under her bed and declares that he is taking Claire away from Richard, who has apparently mistreated her, and that they are running away to their mother’s house.
“Fuddy Meers” first presents itself in a light that is highly comedic: Claire appears artificially bright in light of her condition, Richard is laughably twitchy and Kenny appears as the full-on stereotype of a disturbed young man. The play, however, becomes very dark, very quickly. Though laced with comedic moments throughout, partially due to the absurd extremity of the situation, the more we learn about Claire’s life, the more we descend into a maze of conspiracy, crime and abuse. “Fuddy Meers” presents a uniquely disturbing mess of a life through the eyes of the amnesiac Claire as she tries to make sense of her life with the restricted help of her mother Gertie (Jen Kleinrock ’12), whose speech is rattled and often incomprehensible due to a stroke.
The plot of “Fuddy Meers” unfolds engrossingly, with the use of discreet hints dropped at each junction. The story heads in one direction only to turn back around itself in a simple, subtle switch that forces a shift in perception. Effectively, the viewer discovers the story as slowly and unreliably as Claire does. There are several moments in which both Claire and the viewer come to believe they have a grasp on the situation, until some tiny shift forces us to reconsider our perceptions. One particularly poignant example of this occurs just when we think we’re sure that Zach is indeed Claire’s (rather estranged) brother: He kisses her somewhat suddenly on the mouth, as he would a lover rather than a sister. This small action completely changes the slow-built conceptions regarding Claire’s situation, forcing a dramatic reconsideration of the characters that we think we have come to understand.
I was also particularly impressed with the way the characters develop over the course of the play. As the plot gets darker, so do they, their comedic beginnings giving way to an incredible depth. The place where this is best done, I think, is in the character of Claire’s son, Kenny, who is portrayed with all the gravity that his character is due. At the outset of the play, Claire’s son is a classic delinquent. Though clearly troubled, the depth of Kenny’s pain becomes gradually less comedic and more real, particularly when he proves to be the key factor in unveiling Claire’s past, a fellow victim in the tragedy that has been her life and the central piece to unraveling the mysteries behind her current situation.
Though the play presents itself in a remarkably strange manner, the relatively small cast (only seven actors) pull off their roles flawlessly, allowing the plot to pivot and turn as strangely and subtly as it is clearly supposed to. There is not a single actor who I was not completely impressed with. Each was fully consumed by their role, playing it for comedy when such was called for without losing the deep darkness of each character and of the show as a whole. Even when the cast appeared on stage for their curtain call, I could not fully separate them from the parts they had played. Particularly of note was the ability of Theoharis, in the role of Claire, who portrays her character to perfection, gradually shifting her style as the character became steadily more aware of the true gruesomeness of her fate. Though I highlight Theoharis, each and every actor in “Fuddy Meers” did an incredible job in their highly complex roles.
In the end, “Fuddy Meers” is a deeply complex play perhaps best understood through the understanding of its title. “Fuddy Meers,” as we learn, is Gertie’s stroke-addled version of “funny mirrors,” the warped mirrors commonly found in carnivals. Though these fun house mirrors play a roll in the plot, they also reflect the heart of the play itself. Just as fun house mirrors show their subjects as deformed versions of themselves, so “Fuddy Meers” shows a life deformed and contorted beyond salvation, so far gone that the word itself has become a nonsense mockery. Though “Fuddy Meers,” which runs until March 18, can be a challenge to untangle, it is engrossing and enjoyable: highly worth the effort. “Fuddy Meers” is a show not to be missed for anybody with a taste for the twisted.

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