"Apparently, my name is Claire!"
So surmises Claire (a delightfully befuddled Mollie Stickney), a woman with a rare form of amnesia; every night, her memory is erased, leaving her as blank as a scrubbed chalkboard. In David Lindsay-Abaire's cultishly beloved comedy Fuddy Meers (running through April 24 at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley), Claire's daily confusion is attended to, with loving intensity, by her husband, Richard (Andrew Hurteau).
Kenny (Sam Leichter), Claire's angry, pot-smoking son, has nothing but inarticulate resentment for Richard, who patiently explains Claire's condition to her every morning, helped by a book filled with pertinent life details—and a few glaring omissions.
For example, the limping, one-eared, ski-masked man who is hiding under the bed, and who claims to be Claire's long-lost brother, is not mentioned in the book. Then again, the Limping Man (Tim True), insists that Richard is a dangerous murderer planning to kill Claire, a fate he offers to save her from if she will accompany him on a little drive to the country.
Remaining amiably good-natured (considering the overwhelming uncertainty within which she lives), Claire gradually begins filling in the details of her situation. At the remote rural home of her mother, Gertie (Joan Mankin), Claire learns that her mom suffers from her own rare ailment, a form of aphasia that makes her words come out strange—for example, turning the phrase "funny mirrors" to "fuddy meers." Joining them in the country is Heidi (Dena Martinez), a uniformed Latina with a tough demeanor, and Millet (Lance Gardner), a man-child with a sweet disposition and a hand puppet that says foul things, such as "Scratch my itch, bitch!"
Until winning a Pulitzer for the hard-hitting Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire was known primarily as an absurdist, a reputation first established with Fuddy Meers. Though full of loose ends and a troublingly discordant balance between comedy and plain-out meanness, it is easy to see why Fuddy has so many fans. There's something brazenly appealing about all these weird people, and the play is directed by Ryan Rilette with a sense of vandalistic glee. But the production suffers somewhat from its own tonal imbalance, a problem made worse by Rilette's decision to play the darkest moments as painfully, unhumorously real.
Though there is much to enjoy in the production, it becomes harder to laugh in the second act, when Lindsay-Abaire's twisted imagination reaches into some truly unpleasant, violent places.
In Fuddy Meers, it's all very funny—except when it's not.
'Fuddy Meers' runs Tuesday-Sunday through April 24 at Marin Theatre Company. Showtimes vary. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. $32-$53. 415.388.5208.