'Fuddy Meers' captures humor, chaos of life

“Fuddy Meers”

Presented by Syracuse University Drama


Directed by Craig MacDonald

Location Storch Theatre, 820 E Genesee, Syracuse

When Nov. 4 - 13.

Tickets $18, $16 students/seniors

Word about town: TheNewshouse.com

Review By Lauren Smart

Oh what a chaotic, magical organ is the brain. It stores all of our knowledge, all of our memories, all of life's unspoken rules -- well, unless you're Claire in "Fuddy Meers."

Her trauma-induced amnesia allows her to wake up every day as one character calls her a "little blank slate." Or more accurately, "the little blank thlate" --everyone in this zany play stumbles over their words.

Syracuse University Drama's production captures the chaotic state of Claire's mind and delivers all the appropriate laughs in this messy masterpiece by David Lindsay-Abaire, whose play "Rabbit Hole" won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

If the world isn't complicated enough without amnesia, Jasmine Thomas' Claire must arrange a world in which she attracts the criminally insane. When we meet her she has awoken to a hot cup of coffee served by  Richard (in a charming performance by Daniel Burns), who claims he is her husband. Although, she can't remember her favorite dress or the fact that she hates juice, she knows that she loves search-a-word puzzles.

Then a man asserts he is her brother and convinces her to travel with him to their mother's house. Between this man's thick lisp, his accomplice Millet (Louis Baglio), whose best friend is his hand puppet,  and her mother Gertie (Caroline Wolfson), whose recent stroke left her with a muddled vocabulary - Claire has a tough day in front of her.

At its heart, this play captures the universal struggle to communicate and build a safe understanding of the world. And the SU students craft a lucid, uproariously amusing production in Syracuse Stage's intimate Storch Theatre.

The design team captured the confusion of a forgetful mind. Danielle Hodgins' clever set paralleled the state of Claire's mind, growing more and more cluttered with boxes, as memories return to her, while the vintage, kitschy kitchen rearranged in an increasingly less structured way. This aesthetic was supported by Alexandra Berch's understated, but appropriately spotty lighting design and Kate Foretek's sound design that hinted at popular songs during the scene changes and delicately underscored telling moments.

The acting is some of the finest I've seen in Syracuse thus far this fall. I overheard a woman in the bathroom say it well, "What these kids don't have in years they make up in enthusiasm."

Louis Baglio's performance alone made me want to see the show a second time. His slow, stilted Forrest Gump accent and insane, yet somehow endearing relationship with a sock puppet named Binky (who might be the most honest character in the play) had me, and the entire opening night audience, in tears anytime he was onstage.

Caroline Wolfson's sprightly Gertie rivals Baglio for scene stealing. Wolfson doesn't break character once and delivers her fuddled language with a sincerity that refuses to wander into characteriture.

Thomas' bright-eyed Claire is nine parts spot-on ingenue, with just one part boring. After a while, her overt optimism grows stale, and I found myself wishing I could still relate to her.

"Fuddy Meers" is a heartfelt play, adeptly handled by these SU students. In the first scene, Claire's husband Richard hands her a guide book to her life, with just enough missing that she ends up lost and nearly helpless - a tangible idea that makes this play hard not to love.