Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Claire has a rare form of psychogenic amnesia that erases her memory whenever she goes to sleep. This morning, like all mornings, she wakes up a blank slate. Her chipper husband comes in with a cup of coffee, explains her condition, hands her a book filled with all sorts of essential information, and he disappears into the shower. A limping, lisping, half-blind, half-deaf man in a ski mask, pops out from under her bed and claims to be her brother, there to save her. Claire’s info book is quickly discarded, and she’s hustled off to the country-house of her mother, a recent stroke victim whose speech has been reduced to utter gibberish. Claire’s journey gets even more complicated when a dimwitted thug with a foul-mouthed hand puppet pops up at a window, and her driven husband and perpetually stoned son show up with a claustrophobic lady-cop that they’ve kidnapped. Every twist and turn in this funhouse plot bring Claire closer to revealing her past life and everything she thought she’d forgotten. It’s one harrowing and hilarious turn after another on this roller coaster ride through the day of an amnesiac trying to decipher her fractured life. This poignant and brutal new comedy traces one woman’s attempt to regain her memory while surrounded by a curio-cabinet of alarmingly bizarre characters.
I read a lot of plays because I work backstage in various theaters, but I don’t tend to review them. Part of that is that I work at some theaters that do new work – unpublished, in other words – and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes by reviewing plays that will likely change before they get published (IF they do). And part of that is because, for me, a script isn’t meant to be read, it’s meant to be the groundwork for a visual-audio performance. And, of course, there’s the problem that, when I read a play, it’s usually because I’m going to be involved in the performance in some way.
Fuddy Meers, however, falls into only one of those concerns (the second, if you were wondering) and I only read it because, after seeing a performance, I was curious about the script. So, this is technically part one of my review of Fuddy Meers, focusing only on the script. Part two, posted by now, is a review of the version I saw (which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone in the southeast Michigan area, see part two for details) and focuses on everything BUT the script.
So, in the synopsis above, Fuddy Meers is described as a comedy. Poignant and brutal, but a comedy. And it is definitely all of those things.
Each character, every single one of the seven, has something mentally wrong with them. From Claire’s psychogenic amnesia to Gertie’s aphasia, Heidi’s claustrophobia to Kenny’s dyslexia, every single character suffers from something. Now, this is a script, not a novel or short story, so we aren’t given a lot of clues about how someone says something – that’s for a director or an actor (or both) to decide. And, as is my preference, Fuddy Meers isn’t inundated with stage directions. There are plenty, but not an overwhelming amount in my opinion.
But the lack of direction in the script means that a reader doesn’t always know if something is meant to be played for laughs or not. Since I read the script after seeing a stage production, I know that my reading of the script has already been compromised. I know how a staged version of this script has delivered these lines, which means I feel that certain lines are meant to be funny, even if there’s no context in the script for that.
What I’m getting at is that I feel that all of the characters’ mental issues should be funny and played for laughs because that’s my experience. Other people reading this might not feel that way, especially if reading the script is their introduction to Fuddy Meers. It’s pretty easy to read this script and find offense, but I think it’s also pretty easy to read the script and find the humor.
If Fuddy Meers had been a novel or a short story, we’d know for sure what Lindsay-Abaire intended. Instead, we have to rely on stage directions – but stage directions in published plays aren’t always the work of the author. Sometimes they’re the work of the first staged production of that play, with notes from a production script making it into the published edition. So I can’t say for sure one way or the other about the stage directions being Lindsay-Abaire’s work or not. What I can say is that I found the stage directions played up both the comedy and the hints of horror that can and, frankly, should inhabit any piece of work about someone suffering from memory loss of any kind.
The beautiful thing about plays is that there is so much more than what’s been written. The script is the starting point. And when it is a script like Fuddy Meers, there is a lot to work with. It can go in so many different directions, and that’s one of my favorite parts of this script.
I love the eclectic and memorable collection of characters. I love the lines that can so easily be delivered in so many different frames and still make sense. I love the structure and the freedom within that structure.
Maybe I’m biased since I enjoyed the production I saw before I read the script. But I have to say, Fuddy Meers has a lot going on and a lot going for it. If you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing this play. (And if you’re in SE Michigan, you’ve got a chance through next weekend!)