Gallery Players' production of David Lindsey-Abaire's Fuddy Meers was bubbly fun, mostly due to some terrific comic performances, and direction (by Ted Thompson) that emphasized the loopiness of the script. If the play itself is less than the sum of its parts and if it doesn't really hang together, high spirits still ruled.
When Claire (Deborah Pautler) wakes up in the morning, she's not sure who or where she is, and her husband, Richard (David Keller), goes through what turns out to be his standard morning ritual -- reminding Claire of the details of her life. Psychogenic amnesia is the problem, and since sleep erases her memory he's prepared a book with all salient information dutifully noted. But that doesn't take into account Zach (Tasos Papas), the man under her bed who says he's her brother and who convinces her to go off with him.
The stage was filled with a wonderful multi-level set (designed by Bill Wood) that included a car, a kitchen, and a basement area, so there's obviously lots of ground for the play to cover, and the audience was in the same state as Claire -- trying to figure out what is real, who is using whom for what purpose. (Although the tone here is quite different, the play has glancing similarities to Craig Lucas' Reckless.) But in spite of suggestions of dark secrets and hints of devastating things, this here is a farce, so just take the facts as they're doled out and go along for the ride. In fact, take the cue from the set -- the action is as cartoon-like as the drawings of furniture and props on the walls. And Pautler was as appealing a psychogenic amnesiac as you're likely to find, Keller was both upright and loony, and Papas got better and funnier as he got tripped up in lies and deceptions.
But it was Dolores Kenan who stole the comic honors, as Claire's mother, Gertie. Her dialog is strictly in what they call stroke-speak, using words that merely sound like what she thinks she wants to say, but making deliriously funny sense, and her confidence in her clarity was a riot.
The physical production was also in tune with the lunacy. The lighting (by Juliet Chia) and sound effects (by Peter Lopez) when characters were in the car were both accomplished and funny; and the act-one blackout was a wonderfully staged knockabout farce. Special mention must be made of Binky, the handpuppet/alter ego of Millet (Victor Barranca), created by Diane Barranca. Even if Barranca's character didn't make much sense, and though it was easy to guess his connection with one or another of the characters, Binky's (and Millet's) panic was funny funny funny.
And when those dark secrets and devastating things finally are exposed, it was Pautler who kept it from being maudlin. Her tremulous combination of wistfulness and hope kept her extremely sympathetic. And funny too.
The play itself is better with wisecracks and hilarious asides than actual subject. It is at its best, for example, when Zach promises Claire a future of nothing but easy chairs and warm-baked goods, or when Claire muses out loud "We're quite a family, aren't we?" It all glided by on the goodwill generated by the talented cast, which included Michelle Goltzman as the cop who stops the car and goes along for the ride and Dave Rosenberg as Claire's pot-smoking son. They're mostly thankless roles, but they were carried off with gusto.
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Copyright 2002 David Mackler