Romp and Circumstance in Theatre Factory’s “Fuddy Meers”

By Eva Phillips

Imagine living the first day of the rest of your life every damn day.

Imagine meeting your plucky yet exhausted husband and your unwieldy, pot-loving son anew every damn day, only to have all the interactions and ephemeral memories demolished in your sleep.

Then imagine all of this plus interstate abduction, secret identities, a geriatric stroke-survivor swinging a knife, and a perverted therapy puppet.

And then you’re scratching the surface of Fuddy Meers as recently adapted by the team at Theatre Factory.

Fuddy Meers, whose title is a self-referential nod to the both hilarious and excruciating muddled speech of the elderly matriarch Gertie (played by effortless Kathleen Regan), is a raucous—but, impressively, never discombobulated—story that centers around Claire (Beth Minda), a woman suffering from mysterious genetic amnesia that has crippled her for two years by simultaneously erasing her lifetime of memories and obliterating the new memories she daily makes as soon as she falls asleep each night. The play opens with Claire being greeted by her exceedingly chipper husband Richard (Joe Eberle) who, of course, reminds her that he is her husband, dotingly brings her coffee and calls her Huckleberry, and gives her the downlow on what her terribly fraught condition is. When Richard, who Claire keeps adamantly calling by another name, excuses himself to shower, a masked, maybe nefarious but certainly flamboyant limping man with a noticeable lisp (played deftly by Kevin Bass) emerges to allegedly save bewildered and befuddled Claire from her husband and surly son (an effective Jared Lewis). Chaos, comicality, and run-ins with a twitchy cop (divinely brash Kaitlin Cliber) ensue.

Few shows I have seen in the past years, both performed at this scale and in general, have managed to spectacularly execute the meticulous physical control and timing necessary to make a show Fuddy Meers as phenomenally palatable as it should be. While a decent amount of David Lindsay Abaire’s original story is dependent upon the nuanced, weaving storytelling and swift, brash dialogue, the story is in no way effective or lasting without fairly extravagant physical acting and comedy. To that effect, the show’s choreography and direction in Theatre Factory’s adaptation was remarkable in flawlessly executing both articulations of and transitions between tense physical danger, ludicrous physical theatricality, and delicate, subdued physical closeness. Director Jeff Johnston, as well as creative team Sue Kurey (Stage Manager/Production Manager), Bekah Little (Assistant Stage Manager) and Kalee George (Fight Choreographer), deserve praise for taking a production that could have been easily grossly mismanaged and transforming it into a brilliantly orchestrated two-ish hours of delight and fastidious movement. Their work is also wonderfully complemented by the exquisite set (and equally exquisite and seamless set movement between scenes) designed and furnished by Matt Mylnarksi, Evan Hauth, Sarah Bender and Frankie Shoup.

The small yet wildly impactful cast deserve a thundering of literal and figurative applause. As Claire, Beth Minda demonstrates hilarious aplomb in balancing bluntness and vulnerability in her leading performance, and perfectly cuts it with emotional rawness when needed. Joe Eberle (Richard), who must know the eerie verisimilitude he bears to Patton Oswalt both in looks and delivery/comedic timing, could have easily let the hapless husband with a secret past become a caricature, but instead gives us heart, unbelievable wit and charm, and marvelous physical acting. Perhaps handed the most challenging role, Kathleen Regan nails the challenging speech of Getie, and steals many of the scenes she is in (or simply heard in). And Tom Protupilac’s Millet is at once flamboyant and sweet, and his bizarrely symbiotic relationship with a crass, aggressive puppet Hinky Binky is so outrageously funny, I can scarcely put it into words.

In terms of subject matter, there are elements of the story which are handled in David Lindsay-Abaire’s script with a sort of late 90s/early 2000s ideologically murky brusqueness for the sake of laughs. Issues like domestic violence, physical and verbal handicaps, and trauma (of various sorts) are given the coarse, flippant treatment that is very specific to a certain era of humor that, while still usually landing (especially given the expert performances and direction of the Theatre Factory crew) now, does not always sit or resonate as well or comfortably as it would have in 1999-2004. That being said, the actors and team involved should be immensely proud of this extraordinary feat of hilarious mayhem, brilliant acting, and odd family love. It is a beyond memorable night at the theatre.

Fuddy Meers runs at Theatre Factory through March 3rd. Ticket information can be found at their site.

Eva Phillips is celebrating her third year in Pittsburgh, third year writing for PGH in the Round, and twenty-seventh year not getting murdered (shockingly, despite all odds). She relocated to the brittle Steel City from Virginia to pursue her Masters in Literary and Cultural Studies at CMU (with a concentration in film theory and film criticism, and intersections with feminism and gender), and has spent the past few years in Pittsburgh cultivating her writing career, developing her blog https://www.tuesgayswithmorrie69.net/, raising two show cats, and widening her perspectives on the ever-evolving spectrum of theatre. She only has one Les Miserables tattoo out of her 32 tattoos, and she finds that morally reprehensible.

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