What is most interesting about Lindsay-Abaire's construction is more than the strangeness of his characters or the shrewdness of his plotting--one could turn to Charles Ludlam or Joe Orton for similar examples of lunacy. Rather, it's the playwright's mating dance with absurdism and farce. And what a marriage! After all, in earlier, easier times, one could detect a farce through doors on a stage; Lindsay-Abaire, keen in the extreme on breaking down theatrical walls, focuses on the farcicality of life.
Which is not to imply that under Fuddy Meers lurks a work of quirky social consciousness--Fuddy would be duddy if it were--but when you think about a memoryless mother faced with a pothead son, or two neurotic ex-cons so bumbling you wonder how they could have ever committed a crime, or an older mother mangling the mother tongue, the suggestion is that the world today is a fanciful festival of freakizoids. And in a world in which freaks are the norm and the norm is freaky, what could be better than heightened weirdness that no one thinks is odd?
To be sure, none of this non-profundity would be possible without the Holly Goweirdly performance of J. Smith Cameron as Claire. Blessed with jiffy-pop eyes and a voice that glorifies the sardonic, the American theater should treasure this treasure. Whether delivering a bewildered one-liner or interpreting Gertie's gobbledygook, there is something about her performance that captures both Claire's sunny honesty and the spare, humanizing bits of wisdom that she collects, if just for the day, throughout the play. Everyone, including Claire, knows that sleep will transform her into a blackboard slate wiped clean, and yet Claire is fearless, swift, charming, even cunning. It's ultimately not a loss of memory from which Claire suffers, but a deeply affecting lack of dignity, the kind of accumulated sense of learning and accomplishment that a lifetime of living usually provides.
The actress is fortunate enough to be joined by a jolly, dizzy, uniformly wonderful ensemble, beginning with Breen's turn as Limping Man. Not to give away one of the many plot turns that allow Fuddy Meers to handle the hurdle of making sense, but in one scene, when Heidi is placing stitches into the Limping Man's knife-gashed back, Breen reveals himself to be as willing a victim of the freewheeling farceur as the dark-shadowed Naked Angels actor we have occasionally known him to be.
The goofiest roles, naturally, go to the minor characters. Burke, for example, chews through Gertie like a casserole of colliding phraseologies, and to the credit of Petrarca's excellent direction, they are mixed in with enough wacky stage business to turn every jot of kooky shtick into a tittle of shticky kook. Nobbs, as Kenny, and Lewis, as Heidi, work their stuff excellently while Jones, deviating between Millet's own character and the near-Tourette's character of the sock-puppet, swerves from the manic to the bizarre triumphantly. Then again, perhaps playing two such roles in Fuddy Meers is no mere feat. Perhaps it's merely living.