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CLAIRE’S BIG ADVENTURE

Gallery Players’ ’Fuddy Meers’ delivers suspense & slapstick

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Claire wakes up every morning with no memory. Her son, Kenny, is dyslexic. And her mother, Gertie, has suffered a stroke, which makes her speech impossible to decipher.

"We’re quite a family, it seems," she tells the limping, lisping man with the deformed ear who claims to be her brother.

With its hovering mysteries and hell-bent antics, "Fuddy Meers," David Lindsay-Abaire’s dark comedy, now on stage at the Gallery Players, at times seems to be exactly what might have happened if Alfred Hitchcock had teamed up with the Three Stooges.

But "Fuddy Meers" is much more than psychological suspense and slapstick humor. It’s also a multidimensional look at reality and how humans twist it. In "Fuddy Meers," the characters are either hiding the truth or too afflicted or afraid to communicate it. Like the fuddy meers - "funny mirrors" in stroke talk - of the title, they reflect the world in strange and distorted ways.

"Fuddy Meers" opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club on Oct. 12, 1999 and was transferred to the Minetta Lane Theatre on Jan. 27, 2000. Its successful run quickly launched the career of playwright Lindsay-Abaire.

The play is about a very special day in Claire’s life. While her husband, Richard, is taking a shower and she is looking at the combination scrapbook and instruction manual he hands her every morning, a stranger pops out from under her bed, claiming he is her brother come to rescue her from her abusive husband and bring her back to her mother’s house.

When Richard discovers that Claire is missing, he jumps into the car with his rebellious, pot-smoking son, Kenny, and they drive away in hot pursuit. Richard shares a joint and a few memories of his shady past with his son in a hilarious send-up of the drug-induced state of mind. But after a while, they are stopped by a woman in a highway patrol uniform named Heidi, who informs them that they have been cruising along at 84 miles an hour.

Meanwhile, Claire and her abductor arrive at Gertie’s house, where Claire tries to make sense of her mother’s gibberish and the contradictory statements of Millet, a dim-witted, possibly psychotic escaped convict whose alter ego is a foul-mouthed hand puppet he’s constantly begging to keep quiet.

The Gallery Players’ production is directed by Ted Thompson, a regular at the Heights players, where he has directed "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," "Side Man" and "The Sum of Us." Thompson really comes into his own with "Fuddy Meers."

This may be because the Gallery is an Equity Showcase, which gave him access to some top talent: Tasos Papas as the Limping Man, Dolores Kenan as Gertie and Michelle Goltzman as Heidi. But Thompson also gets excellent performances out of his non-Equity actors: David Keller, who plays opposite Deborah Pautler as Claire, Dave Rosenberg as Kenny and Victor Barranca as Millet.

If this is what Thompson can create under the right conditions, the reviewer would like to see more of him at the Gallery Players.

What’s more, Thompson has wisely brought over Bill Wood (lifetime member, resident director and set designer for the Heights Players) to create the "Fuddy Meers" set - an ingeniously designed multiunit, multilevel affair that allows the action to flow as smoothly as cinematography.

Lindsay-Abaire has said that "Fuddy Meers" was inspired by a television news report on a book about neurological disorders.

"The author talked about this kind of amnesia where, when you go to sleep, you forget everything you’ve remembered during the day, and when you wake up you’re a blank slate," Lindsay-Abaire said on the Carpenter Square Theatre Web site. "I thought of the first scene and then the very last one. Otherwise, ’Fuddy’ unfolded itself to me as it unfolds to Claire - as a series of surprises."

The Gallery Players have lost none of the spontaneity and zaniness inherent in the script. From the opening scene to the somewhat ambiguous conclusion, their madcap zeal makes one eager to suspend disbelief and join in the fun.

For the audience too, "Fuddy Meers" unfolds as a surprise - and a very delightful one, indeed.

The Gallery Players production of "Fuddy Meers" plays through Dec. 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, at 199 14th St. at Fourth Avenue in Park Slope. Tickets are $15, students and seniors $12. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.

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