The Contemporary Theater Company (CTC) lives up to its name with 2013 summer-season opener Fuddy Meers, written in 1999 as a first professional work by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Unlike his more well-known 2006 Rabbit Hole that won a Pulitzer Prize and was turned into a film, Fuddy Meers is a genre-defying black comedy and domestic drama about one of the most dysfunctional families to hit the stage since Hamlet.
The opening night performance ended with a standing ovation from the audience, but it is a difficult play to summarize because everything is a potential spoiler. In the first scene, protagonist Claire (Meghan Rose Donnelly), who wakes up every morning with no recollection of who she is and has to be briefed about her own identity by her husband Richard (Spencer Curry), has her usual morning routine disrupted by a Limping Man in a ski mask (Tyler Greene) who suddenly appears in Claire’s bedroom, tells her she is in great danger, and convinces her to run away with him. Richard and teenaged Kenny (Charlie Santos) quickly give chase, correctly anticipating that they will find Claire at the home of her mother Gertie (Valerie Tarantino). In a succession of farcical incidents, the various parties in transit encounter a police officer (Steph Rodger) and Millet (Sami Avigdor), a strange man who uses a sock puppet on his hand as a means of communication. The audience shares Claire’s childlike bewilderment, figuring out what is going on through a fast-paced chain of events.
A play about perfect people would be boring. There is something wrong with just about every character, sometimes obvious and sometimes not, significant acting challenges capably met by a uniformly excellent cast. Claire, of course, has no long-term memory, and Donnelly portrays her in tone and expression as an innocent blank slate putting together the jigsaw-puzzle bits of her life throughout the day and acquiring insight and wisdom along with the audience. Gertie has had a stroke, and her speech is difficult to understand – the play’s title is the closest she can come to “funny mirrors” – and Tarantino pulls off a difficult role without ever being allowed to speak a clear line of dialogue. Millet’s sock puppet has its own personality and gets into battles of will with its puppeteer, so Avigdor manages surprisingly convincing, if occasionally violent, arguments with his own hand. The Limping Man has quite a lot to do physically despite his limp and numerous other problems, but Greene carefully avoids turning his character into what could too easily degenerate into a B-movie cliché.
Fuddy Meers is well-suited to the intimate setting of CTC’s new (just under a year) black-box space in downtown Old Wakefield. Donnelly doubles as scenic designer, recreating the archetypical home of one’s parents that always looks two decades older than the modern world. Director Christopher J. Simpson, who is also the company’s artistic director, wisely keeps the action as close to the audience as the stage will allow and invests faith in his cast. He deserves a lot of credit for taking advantage of his creative freedom to stage a modern work that is not particularly well known, but is in fairly conventionally straightforward narrative style, although CTC also successfully has presented more radically modernist plays such as Eurydice in 2011 (which also starred Donnelly in its title role).
Far more upbeat and overtly comedic than Rabbit Hole, and relying on bizarrely implausible characters and coincidences reminiscent of Arsenic and Old Lace, by no means is Fuddy Meers light and fluffy theatrical summer fare, either. By the end of the play, enough skeletons have been let out of closets that the audience sees that there really are no shiny happy people.
Fuddy Meers is at the Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main St, Wakefield, RI, June 28, 29, July 5, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13 at 7:00 pm. For ticket information, call 401-218-0282 or visit ContemporaryTheaterCompany.com.