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[whitespace] 'Fuddy Meers'
Photograph by Dave Lepori

You Must Remember This: Randall King tries to jog Maureen McVerry's failing memory in 'Fuddy Meers.'

Puppet Palaver

A talking sock puppet speaks the truth in 'Fuddy Meers' at San Jose Stage Company

By Heather Zimmerman

IF PLAYS hold up mirrors to the human condition, David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers offers more refraction than reflection. Even the play's nonsensical title distorts two common words, and certainly Lindsay-Abaire has deliberately tweaked and twisted the images in his "funny mirrors" to make a point: people are lost without meaningful communication. San Jose Stage Company closes its season with this unique comedy/drama/mystery.

Claire (Maureen McVerry) suffers from a form of amnesia that erases her memory each night so that she awakens each morning with no idea of her identity. She must rely on the information of others to fill in her blank memory. But instead of illuminating the shadowy corners of her mind, the characters in Claire's life further obscure them. They include her too-cheerful husband, Richard (Kevin Blackton); a lisping, limping stranger (Randall King) who may know more than he'll admit; and Claire's mother, Gertie (Connie Matson), a stroke victim struggling to speak the truth, or to speak at all.

Speech impediments both literal and figurative abound because even those who can speak plainly seldom do. The most obvious of these cases, the well-meaning would-be criminal Millet (James Reese), often speaks through a sock puppet called Hinky-Binky, particularly when the conversation involves anything too troubling for Millet to say himself. Hinky-Binky appears to have no difficulty at all in speaking openly. Having a puppet as the play's major truth-teller heightens the sense of surrealism we get from watching Claire rediscover her life over the course of one day--with the near certainty she will forget it all again in 12 hours.

Lindsay-Abaire veers from hypersilliness to dark family drama and back, and perhaps that's partly why the performances prove uneven. Director Rick Singleton gives us a very strong sense that calm, spacy Claire occupies the eye of a human hurricane swirling around her, but all the players hurtling past her don't seem to belong in the same play--they swing wildly from cartoonish caricatures to angry realism. That said, a particularly hilarious stand-out is Blackton as Claire's prim, steadfastly nurturing husband. King has also crafted a darkly comic character.

All in all, Fuddy Meers closely resembles Millet's sock puppet: a fun, nonthreatening device created for dropping some bombshells about life. But both the play and the puppet, though entertaining and with lots to say, are largely ineffectual--and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fuddy Meers works best as a goofy, giddy entertainment, especially when we realize we're being led along, just like Claire, to a "truth" that's something of a red herring--that's both the play's genius and its ultimate limitation. When Claire begs those around her for "one piece of truthful information," it becomes clear every interaction, every piece of information is subject to its teller--like a game of telephone, every person's version of a story, an idea, will offer their own version of the truth. Fuddy Meers doesn't ponder any universal truths, because it suggests that there aren't any--well, except maybe for the universal fact that universal facts don't exist.

Fuddy Meers plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through July 28 at the San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $16-$34. (408.283.7142)

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From the June 20-26, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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