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Dude, where’s my mom? cast members of Capital Rep’s Fuddy Meers.

Tomorrow Is a Brand New Day

By Kathryn Ceceri

Fuddy Meers
By David Lindsay-Abaire, Directed by Elysa Marden
Capital Repertory Theatre, through May 29

Claire, the main character in Fuddy Meers, has a form of amnesia that erases all the day’s memories as soon as she goes to sleep.

“That must be a very rare thing!” she exclaims in the bright and chipper persona with which she awakes.

Not rare enough for this wonderful and original play, which has the misfortune to hit our region at a time when short-term memory loss has become the plot device du jour in movies ranging from Memento to Finding Nemo to Fifty First Dates. But as its garbled name implies, Fuddy Meers is really about trying to make sense of the world when all of the information you’re getting is confusing. What we have here is a failure to communicate: a frantically comic and scary situation created by the coming together of David Lindsay-Abaire’s quirky characters, each with his or her own impediment to telling the truth.

Claire’s husband Richard is almost aggressively nice, helpfully providing her with a scrapbook that tells her everything she needs to know to get through the day, starting with her slippers set out neatly by the side of the bed.

“It’s like a little scavenger hunt!” cries the delighted Claire.

But the book can’t begin to explain the very weird day ahead. Before she knows it, Claire (Bernadette Quigley) is whisked out of her home by a limping man (Chris Hutchinson) with a ski mask and a terrible lisp (as Claire, in her completely guileless manner, cheerily points out). She’s taken to the home of her mother, Gertie (Eileen Schuyler), who can only speak in a “stroke talk” that renders half her words unintelligible, where they’re joined by a whimpering nutjob named Millet (Jeffrey M. Bender) and his potty-mouthed puppet Hinky-Binky. Meanwhile, Richard (Gregory Northrop) snags Kenny (Aaron Northrup), Claire’s angry dyslexic pothead son, to set off in search of her, only to unravel when they’re pulled over by a patrolwoman named Heidi (Karen Cash). The chaos builds when all these characters come together at Gertie’s until, finally, everything becomes clear—if only until Claire falls asleep again.

As strange as it is, Fuddy Meers is the best play I’ve seen yet at Capital Rep, or anywhere in the area for that matter. The writing, the acting, the design, the directing—everything is first-rate. All of Lindsay-Abaire’s characters are to some extent aware of their own predicament, tossing out wry observations through the filter of their own personal shortcomings. Even at her most clueless, Quigley’s Claire is alert and quick-witted, with a wide-eyed appeal that draws us in where we might otherwise be afraid to tread. Hutchinson’s mysterious limping man is menacing, yes, but not altogether unsympathetic. Bender’s Millet is an entire symphony of neurotic tics, while Schuyler’s Gertie masterfully uses her eyes to convey what her tongue can’t tell us. But misplaced words are common to all the characters, as if Gertie’s affliction sometimes strikes them all.

Director Elysa Marden has created a consistent tone that lets each very different character interact seamlessly; there is no question that they’re all coming from their separate bizarre worlds but landing in the same universe. And most importantly, she’s brought together timing and delivery to ensure the cast nails every laugh. Lights by Deborah Constantine and sound by Christopher St. Hilaire help move the show along swiftly through the innumerable blacked-out changes of Donald Eastman’s highly functional set (including a perplexingly camouflage-colored bedroom). Denise Dygert got the simple costumes just right, and fight director William A. Finlay helps ratchet up the show’s tension and excitement. Even Hinky-Binky, the homemade puppet, is perfect in an absolutely dreadful way.

Fuddy Meers is a terrific puzzle, an actors’ tour de force, a great evening. No, I’m not going to tell you what “fuddy meers” means; I’d rather leave the satisfaction of solving this riddle up to you.

And It Falls in for a Base Hit

Rounding Third
By Richard Dresser, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
Capital Repertory Theatre, through May 30

There’s a sterling moment dur-ing the second inning of Rounding Third that has all the subtle thrill of a double steal: Touchy-feely new assistant coach Michael (Jeffrey M. Bender) shows up late to the first practice but bearing “a mocha latte, double foam because I don’t know how you take it.” He says this smiling, offering the drink to longtime champion manager Don (Chris Hutchison), who has just drilled his team on his rules, number one being on time. The beer-guzzling Don stares at the foam cup, and—via his incredulous, open-mouthed stare—you can almost hear the thought, “There’s no latte in baseball!”

There are numerous such comic moments in this sturdy, two-character study running in rep with Fuddy Meers at Capital Rep. Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third captures all the humor and clichés in Little League baseball: the experienced, “my way or the highway” coach; the clueless, neophyte, “it’s not winning or losing, it’s the experience itself that builds self-esteem” coach; the blooper-filled innings; the hard-core agendas parents impose on the sport; the soft-core focus the preteen players bring to the game. And, of course, the best player pitches, while the worst player plays right field; and the star quits while the loser perseveres.

The play reflects Dresser’s numerous TV script-writing credits (The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Education of Max Bickford), not only in its seven-scene structure (roughly 15 minutes per scene), but in its focus on character-driven comedy over contrived meaningfulness. Rounding Third is a play that hits for a .300 average but not for power, pulls the ball to left instead of hitting to all fields, has a high on-base percentage but doesn’t knock many runs in. To finish the baseball metaphors, Rounding Third is a Texas League or Baltimore chop single at best, and never experiences the sublime power of the long ball, despite a contrived extra inning (as Don points out to clueless Michael, Little League games are six innings long) that invokes a dead wife, an adulterous wife, a pitching-star son turning to musical theater, and a loser right-fielder son making a miraculous catch. It’s a fun time that begs for a couple of hot dogs and a chocolate ice cream cone with jimmies afterward.

Along with the solid acting by Hutchison and Bender—who score despite a flaccid physical fight between the two, and a clunky soliloquy by Bender’s Michael that highlights the thinness of the script—there’s an appropriate set by Donald Eastman and excellent song/sound choices by sound designer Christopher St. Hilaire. Eastman aids director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill with set changes to match her typically quick pace: All these scene changes are achieved with an economy of motion that keep the running time, even with a 20-minute intermission, to a pleasing two hours. St. Hilaire continues his excellent work at local professional theaters (he’s also the sound designer at StageWorks) by utilizing Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and a humorous rendition of the National Anthem by local waif Shawn Griffin, and by giving Rounding Third ’s thematic conflict a boost by using John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” as an Act I closer.

—James Yeara

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