If you’re ready for some unconventional fun with a memory-loss momma, a lisping, limping man in a ski mask, and a sock puppet with a potty mouth, then The Montgomery Playhouse’s production of Fuddy Meers is the show for you! Making his directorial debut with Montgomery Playhouse, Ed Starr brings a gaggle of goofs to the stage for a dark comedy that unwinds the mysteries of amnesia, among other things. Claire has amnesia, her memory resets every night she goes to sleep. Her daughter’s a troubled teen, she gets kidnapped by a man with a lisp and a limp and her mother had a stroke and can now only babble speech that makes no sense; and that’s all before the morning’s coffee is done!
Set Designer David Jones gives us a distinguished but subtle shift between the interiors of both featured houses. It can be a real hang up to just use the same furniture with different locations but Jones gives Gertie’s house as a more retro antique location, using the old white rounded ice box and antiquated work bench and wooden peg board to differentiate from Claire and Richard’s more modern house with a lavish bed, end table and nightstand. Simple choices like this keep the happenings on stage refreshing.
Director Ed Starr gives the show a great cast but causes some pacing issues that make the show drag. Awkward pauses appear in places that feel like there shouldn’t be pauses and the scene changes are a little clunky, though once they get the scene up and going it flows smoothly, if slowly. Starr does, however, let his players really embellish their characters with unique vocal intonations, gestures, and postures making them more defined.
The character acting is what sets this show apart from other dark comedy. While the book may be a little bizarre and definitely out of the ordinary; one of the main characters has a sock puppet on his hand as a projection of his repressed alter ego – the actors give a stunning performance really putting emphasis into their character quirks to make them strangely enjoyable.
Richard (Brian Butters) is the most ordinary and generic of the characters in the show, only Butters plays anything but generic. It’s creepy how he’s always so calm, almost monotone in a hypnotized way as he talks about his sordid past and comforts his amnesiac wife as if it’s no big deal that she has no memory whatsoever. One of the things that makes this show so unique is the fact that it plays like a dream; how all the pieces are there and you know they are there and yet they’re not quite there, because it’s just a dream. Butters does this extremely well, missing just the right little something to make him seem slightly askew, keeping you wondering about what the little missing piece might be.
In a similar fashion we meet the daughter, Connie (Sara McMullin). She embodies the typical teenage bitch, hates her parents, does drugs, speaks out, and does so with a fully flared attitude. McMullin does show a versatile soft side late in act II, but seeing the raging character on the edge without knowing how she got there, upholds this bizarre dreamlike notion that the show weaves throughout its scenes.
Dino Coppa as the limping man with the lisp portrays a rather comical character. He alters his speech patterns and vocal inflections to make him sound like a hybrid between Bulwinkle Moose and your every day criminal. It adds a level of hilarity to his character that runs circles around everyone else, except Hinky Binky the sock puppet on Millet’s right hand. Coppa also has a great physical portrayal of driving in a car, swaying this way and that keeping focused on the wheel, making his actions convincing, which helps the audience see him in an actual car on a road instead of in two chairs put together on the stage.
Millet (Michael Abendshein) the man responsible for Hinky Binky, is a comedic riot as well. He’s squirrely and on edge. During moments of panic Abendshein reverts to his alter ego, the high-pitched potty mouthed puppet and gives everyone a good laugh. He gives the audience an excellent execution of his diarrhea of the mouth, babbling on incessantly when he shouldn’t, but still being understood while doing so.
The best two have been saved for last. Claire (Harlie Sponaugle) is the amnesiac. Sponaugle masters the notion of taking on each new discovery as though she’s never heard it before. You can hear it in the way she questions facts about her life, the way her eyes light up in confusion and uncertainty; these focal points that she uses to enhance her character truly help us to believe that her memory is gone. Sponaugle also reflects her working knowledge of comic timing, pausing when she takes in new information and then adding appropriately dark or cryptic responses to them which really rile the audience into laughter.
The madness progresses throughout the show but you literally hit the motherload when you encounter Gertie (Anne Vandercook). Playing a mother with severe aphasia from her stroke, Vandercook takes on the most challenging role of all. Her speech is befuddling, broken sometimes backwards, parts of words instead of whole words; and yet she relays some of the most important information of the show. Her success is attributed to her wildly expressive face and eyes, using those points of emotional transference to get her ideas communicated, and her vocal intonation. Even though you can’t understand her words, you can hear the stresses in the way she speaks them, signaling love or danger. Vandercook is by far the best element of this whacky production and deserves high praises for adding kooky madness to an already maddening character.
Don’t mind the sock puppet potty mouth, and be prepared for a little strangeness, but all in all it’s a great time at Fuddy Meers.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
Fuddy Meers plays through August 26, 2012 at The Arts Barn -in The Kentlands – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, please call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online. (Click on ‘Arts Barn Theater’ on the left under ‘Category/Sub-category’).