1st Stage's 'Fuddy Meers': Long on laughs, short on meaning
"Leth be normal, okay?" Count on the laughs when the mysterious Limping Man lisps this appeal in the dark comedy "Fuddy Meers." After all, he's hanging out with an amnesiac, a grandmother who speaks a scrambled-egg version of English and a manacled oddball who seems to believe that a trash-talking puppet is alive. Hardly a standard-issue crew - and yet, they're typical residents in the fun-house-mirror world of David Lindsay-Abaire's 1999 play, which is receiving an uneven production at Northern Virginia's 1st Stage.
"Fuddy Meers" centers on Claire, the aforementioned amnesiac, who wakes each morning with no memory, forcing her husband, Richard, to supply a daily Cliffs Notes version of her life. When this routine is disturbed by the Limping Man - who inexplicably throws a fit whenever he hears the word "bacon" - wacky and unsettling developments ensue. Its through-the-looking-glass whimsy notwithstanding, "Fuddy Meers" speaks of such realities as trust, healing, second chances and loss. "I'm trying to write outrageous farce with an underlying sadness, a real weight that peeks through the silliness," Lindsay-Abaire remarked of the play in a 2000 interview.
The critical mix of moods doesn't seem quite right in the 1st Stage production, which is performed by a cast with variable amounts of stage presence, directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner (who mounted the piece a decade ago for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company). The manic humor and energy are certainly there - especially when Matt Dewberry's Limping Man is holding forth, with his cracked laughter, crazed eyes and turn-on-a-dime mood swings. But you can't always sense the poignancy that needs to course beneath the play's madcap surface. (Lindsay-Abaire explored minor-key emotions more fully in "Rabbit Hole," which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and formed the basis for the recent movie.)
Admittedly, Mark Krikstan's delightful jigsaw-puzzle set establishes an intriguingly ambiguous tone: The walls of the characters' houses, and even a tree in a back yard, appear to be made of giant puzzle pieces, some of which are missing. In the play's first scene, the ponytailed, pink-pajama-clad Claire (MiRan Powell) wakes in a tidy jigsaw-walled bedroom as Richard (Kevin Hasser), in blue pajamas, bounds in with her morning coffee. (Cheryl Patton Wu designed the expressively loopy costumes.)
Hasser's performance is consistently enjoyable, whether he's displaying Richard's patience-steeled geniality or revealing the eccentricities and secrets beneath that surface. But Powell's Claire has a screechy perkiness that becomes a little monotonous: A few more hints of ambivalence or pensiveness might go a long way toward fixing the production's tonal imbalance.
Jane Margulies Kalbfeld scuttles around endearingly as the diction-challenged grandmother Gertie, and Jacob Yeh supplies a lively portrait of Kenny, Claire and Richard's son, who's suffering from a bad case of the adolescent sulks. Doug Mattingly fills in acceptably as Millet, the former janitor who's polite in person but curses a blue streak when he's funneling words to his puppet sidekick, Binky.
Some of the climactic bits of action seem a little fussier than they should be, but overall, there's a good deal to chuckle at in this "Fuddy Meers." Still, with that crucial note of melancholy largely missing, the play isn't as meaningful, or as moving, as it could be. A bittersweet quality does emerge successfully in the final scene - but that's an awfully long time to wait.
Wren is a freelance writer.
Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner; lighting, Marianne Meadows; sound, Peter Van Valkenburgh; fight choreography, Paul Gallagher; graphic design, Robin Harris; props, Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa. With Nevie Brooks. One hour 45 minutes. Through Feb. 27 at 1st Stage Theatre, 1524 Spring Hill Road, McLean. Call 703- 854-1856 or visit www.1ststagetysons.org.