Life or something like it

“Fuddy Meers” sees existential angst in our garbled speech.

Greg Corradini

One’s life, in recollection, could be nothing more than a product of narrative. We lead our lives as stories, and the stories we tell ourselves continually construct our identity. We often censor and select pivotal moments in the telling. Certain events are purposefully erased and forgotten, or so we think.

In David Lindsay-Abaire’s play “Fuddy Meers,” now onstage at Theatre in the Round, a group of characters must confront their muddled past. But to do so, they must overcome the barriers to honest communication.

Claire (Kim Kivens), like many people, has a hard time making sense of her life each morning. But for Claire, a psychogenic amnesiac, the problem is more stubborn -every time she wakes up her memory is frazzled, a sign of her repression. “It’s like this: My name is Richard Fiffle, and I’m your husband,” says a cheeky man, bringing her a cup of coffee in the first scene. For Claire, as for the audience, the motivation is to make emotional and factual sense out of her past.

To assist her, Richard (Robert King) has pieced together a large Filofax book designed to navigate Claire throughout her day. There are pictures of people that she should know and instructions. The Filofax prescribes, “To begin your day put on your slippers.”

This day, however, will prove an anomaly. A limping, deformed and manacled man slides out from under the bed in a ski mask. Limping Man (Mark Hahn) claims to be Claire’s brother and has come to rescue her. With a pronounced lisp, Limping Man says, “That man in the shower ith going to kill you Claire. He’th a very dangeruth perthon.”

Hahn’s Limping Man is a taciturn fellow. His movements bear a tiredness, a possible product of emotional strain. The audience believes his sibling story only because his frumpiness is cute.

Together the two travel to the house of Gertie, who turns out to be Claire’s mother. There, Claire is further encumbered in her search for answers. Millet (David Talarico), another manacled man, appears brandishing a hand puppet named Hinky Binky, the other half of his personality. Recently, Claire’s own mother has suffered a stroke that has left her speech impaired – a physical sign of the communication barrier. “Fast break, Clay? Sear-el? Toe-sat? Fast break?” Gertie says to Claire, asking if she wants breakfast.

This circus sideshow, a theme highlighted by Kirby Moore’s set where hula hoops act as a windows, captures the attention of the audience through the forcefulness of its charade.

But Lindsay-Abaire seems to relish the notion of the audience becoming comfortable with uncomfortable ideas. The burden of jokes founded on the character’s disabilities and inadequacies are funny, but questionably so. The way the script seems to skirt the larger issues (mental illness and familial discord) while reaping comic benefit, undermines its possible dramatic value.

But the levity brought to serious issues is, as it turns out, a commentary of its own.

On stage, the farce, in its extreme exaggeration, becomes a critique of the characters’ subterranean ugliness. This isn’t a happy story, and Lindsay-Abaire’s comical spin purposes jokes and high jinks as a salve for emotional festering.

In “Fuddy Meers,” tragic intensity is abandoned in favor of flippancy. And just as the characters refuse to deal with their pasts, the audience finds itself at a distance from serious issues at hand – a position many people, through choice, have experienced.

Even with the script problems, director G.J. Clayburn, to his credit, uses solid casting to illuminate the larger themes.

Hahn’s doughy portrayal of Limping Man is purposeful. His brutality that seems all too unreal when it rears its head is hidden by his physical pretense. Asian-American actor Eric Sharp plays Claire’s son Kenny, a move that further isolates Kenny as a foreigner among his family.

But it is Robert King as the cheesy, khaki-wearing Richard Fiffle who displays the most amusingly disparate character.

With a straight-laced look and pre-school teacher tone he tells Kenny, “It’s all gone. I’m back where I started, smokin’ reefer, kidnappin’ cops, crossin’ state lines. It just goes to show ya that stability is a fragile figurine.”