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Fuddy talk, crazy play



David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers slowly unearths haunting mysteries. I'll tell you all the plot revelations now. You're unlikely to remember the details when you go see Shipping Dock Theatre's production of this goofy, disturbing drama, anyway. And if you do, they'll probably turn out to be untrue.

            What happens, you see, is that Claire wakes up, and a man she doesn't know explains that she can't remember him or much else because she has psychogenic amnesia [?], which every day makes her forget everything that happened before she fell asleep. He says he's Richard, her husband, and the foul-mouthed boy who hates him is her son Kenny, who smokes pot.

            When Richard goes to shower and Kenny goes to cut school, a masked, limping man emerges from under Claire's bed and says he's saving her from Richard, dragging her outside in her pajamas to escape to her mother's house. Later she finds out that he's her brother Zach. He's driving the car so badly because he has a deformed and deaf ear, and can't see well on that side of his face. He's also wearing a handcuff on one wrist.

            Claire's mother, Gertie, is pathetic but amusing, and she's really good with a shovel. Gertie has had a stroke, so she talks funny. For instance, her big revelation concerns distorted pictures of Claire in "fuddy meers," meaning the funny mirrors of a funhouse.

            But before we learn what that's all about, we have to meet Millet, Zach's friend, who wears a hand-puppet named Hinky Binky and a matching handcuff. Millet is shy and nice, but the hand-puppet talks dirty. Or, as goody-goody Richard says, Hinky Binky is "potty-mouthed." Gertie would call him "croob ad bulgar."

            Well, brother Zach turns out to be dead, and the masked guy is actually Claire's former husband. We know he's untrustworthy because he and Millet seem to be escaped convicts, still handcuffed. And anyway, he hates bacon. Understand?

            After picking up Kenny and smoking pot with him in the car, Richard is stopped by a female cop, whom he overpowers and drags with them to Gertie's house. We learn that Richard isn't so virtuous: He's wanted for robbery and assault. He works at the hospital where he met Claire, who was a nurse. And one day when she woke up forgetting all the times when she turned him down, Claire had agreed to marry Richard.

            Brother Zach is actually Kenny's father. Kenny hates him too. The female cop is actually Heidi, an imposter who loves "Zach" and helped him escape --- with Millet and the puppet. Everybody then attacks and hurts everybody else. Hinky Binky betrays Millet. Claire sews up wounds on her fake-brother/real former husband, and on her son Kenny, and she gets her memory straightened out. But will she remember when she wakes tomorrow?

            And you don't want to know why her limping, deformed, lying ex-husband hates bacon.

            Barbara Biddy directs with game determination to get her actors to play the truth in these characters. And they do. Mostly.

            As Millet, Terry Brennan seems the most successful in never allowing his character to realize that there's anything about him that's out of the ordinary. And he not only makes the hand puppet a separate entity but perhaps a more vividly real character than Millet.

            Suzanne Fleenor doesn't make Gertie's gabble quite as comprehensible as others have in this role, but she plays the character with such conviction that her Gertie is hilarious and just a tad saddening. Kerry Young's Claire could be more vulnerable, but she's honestly bewildered enough to gain sympathy and laughter.

            Joe Tinkleman as Kenny, Meg Gehman as Heidi, and Sean Michael Smith as the lying Limping Man seem mostly to be honestly unaware of how funny their characters are, and they all share strong physical performances. In the complex part of Richard, Jerry Jones plays with fine integrity, going only a hair over the line when pretending to be sweet and good with an innocence that most Disney ingénues would find arch.

            The physical production has a slapped together look that seems appropriate. I'd shudder at a massive Metropolitan Opera House production of Fuddy Meers. And I like Biddy's light touch. A play that makes lying, cheating, and dope abuse appealing; and stabbing, shooting, and burning people lovable; and clearly approves of making fun of the sick, handicapped, and mentally impaired, shouldn't be burdened with heavy significance. Just applaud it for the good work it's doing. And maybe giggle a little.

Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Barbara Biddy, plays at Shipping Dock Theatre, 151 St. Paul Street, through December 31. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tix: $16-$18. For $25 on New Year's Eve, at 6:30 & 9:30 p.m., you can see the show and party with dessert and champagne. Call 232-2250.

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