note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Claire … Lorna McKenzie
Gertie … Sandi McDonald
Heidi … Wendy Nystrom
Kenny … Louis Frank
Limping Man … Jason Beals
Miller … Paul Norton
Richard … Brian Mahler
Everyone seems to be writing black comedies, nowadays, which is not surprising as America has become one, herself, but dysfunctional families, like anything else, can grow tiresome through overuse and that fringe-theatre favorite FUDDY MEERS, now at the Footlight Club, soon had me barricading my warm Shakespearean heart against it. David Lindsay-Abaire’s premise is certainly clever --- Claire, a victim of psychogenic amnesia, awakens each day as a blank slate to be filled in by the criss-crossing zanies encircling her; when she goes back to sleep, she will forget everything, once again --- but his play is a ten-minute sketch pulled tight tight tight over a two-hour frame (Clare remains passive, throughout) and he commits the black comedian’s gravest sin by falling in love with his misfits halfway through the evening and now does his damnedest to make us love them, too, and another dry-ice sculpture melts down to corn syrup; a particularly American flaw. But I was just a sourpuss amidst those who delightedly felt otherwise, so if you love to hug your Batboy, you’ll also hold out your arms to Clare & Company --- but has the American soul become so deadened?
But I will say this: the Footlight production boasts, overall, the strongest ensemble I have seen on its stage, thus far, though director Ryanne McCook hasn’t blended it thoroughly and ends up with a grab-bag of techniques that range from Comedy Club to Arthur Miller. Lorna McKenzie is perfect as the chip-chip-chipper Claire --- I realized halfway through the evening that she was Footlight’s memorable Blanche duBois, two seasons ago (I’m still haunted by her Blanche huddling against the wall, prior to her rape) --- and the amazing Paul Norton is the most cartoon-like as the twisted Miller and his potty-mouth hand puppet Binky but with his full-throated falsetto and his screeching that could put John Kuntz to shame, will Mr. Norton have any voice left for the length of the run? Sandi McDonald is the production’s bedrock as Claire’s mother Gertie whose speech is impaired due to a stroke (the play’s title is Gertie’s way of saying “funhouse mirrors”), but Erik D. Diaz’s two-level set keeps Ms. McDonald upstairs most of the time, declaiming her tricky lines into the stratosphere so that she is equally tricky to decipher, and Ms. McCook stages the evening’s nuttiest moment --- Gertie stabbing Binky to death amidst total chaos --- with Ms. McDonald facing upstage; I almost didn’t catch it. It is too late to change the set design, of course, but Ms. McDonald could certainly face the audience while committing puppet-murder.
In the past I’ve grumbled about manual scene changes slowing down a production’s rhythm; Footlight’s in-betweens for FUDDY MEARS are long enough for you to identify each mover in the semi-darkness, study the upper level’s understructure and map out where the moveable pieces are stored (one fascination: a character’s all-black outfit turns devil-red in the half-light). Those theatres lacking fly space and turntables should stick to unit sets and keep the flow flowing --- and today’s playwrights should pay more attention to the Unities of time, place and action and keep the cinematic elements where they belong: on a screen.