Over the Top

Speaking of writers and control, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has stated in interviews that his huge off-Broadway hit Fuddy Meers, currently being produced at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre, was one of those scripts that writes itself. He was as surprised at the desperate and disturbed high jinks as was the play's heroine, an amnesiac who, after a night's sleep, forgets everything she has learned about her life during the course of a day and wakes up a stranger to it all over again. I'd guess the play was such an easy birth because Abaire grabs a series of farcical contrivances--mostly taking the form of physical or psychological impediments--and spins them at high speed like simultaneous tops. But they never really leave their isolated orbits. In setting up each gun-waving, phone-slamming situation, there's plenty of the playwright's wrist action on display but little sense of him choreographing all the twirling pieces so they interact to give the show an authentic foundation of failed communication. Besides the aforementioned amnesia victim (played in Fort Worth by Sara Rankin Weeks), we have her escaped-convict kidnapper (Gray Palmer), who lisps and is deaf in one ear; his weak-minded accomplice (Scott Milligan, again getting much comic mileage out of a character with low self-esteem) with a split personality that expresses itself as a caustic sock puppet named Binky; and the amnesiac's mother (Dorothy Sanders), a stroke victim whose pronunciation of the phrase "funny mirrors" gives us the play's title.

As if Fuddy Meers didn't feel crowded enough with afflictions and lunatic crises that distance us more and more from the players as their secret relationships emerge, the playwright introduces a moment of "domestic violence" intervention late in the second act, when a son attempts to attack his abusive father. With the revelation of why the kidnapper is deaf, why he wants the amnesiac, and the trauma that produces her condition, director George H. Brown obscures his too-frantic pileup of desperate acts in a sudden firecracker flash of wisdom by Weeks, who goes from a blank slate to Oprah-knowledgeable about family abuse patterns with questionable speed. On opening night, she was the show's weak link in terms of laughs, directed as she was to wander through the loonieness with wide eyes and a beatific smile. It's a too literal interpretation for a chronically forgetful woman with a core of pain in her recent past, but the effect of her onstage isolation does underscore just how disconnected Abaire's sense of the human comedy is.