The odd title for Cambria Center for the Arts theatre’s new production, “Fuddy Meers,” eventually becomes clear. It’s a distortion of “funny mirrors,” as spoken by a stroke victim.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s 1999 play, a Frankenstein’s monster of farce, psychodrama and mystery, opens as a woman wakes up under a white bedspread in a white bedroom. The whiteness perfectly symbolizes the woman’s mind, a tabula rasa.
Claire (MJ Johnson) hasn’t the foggiest idea of where or who she is, because of her psychogenic amnesia.
Every morning Claire’s husband, Richard (Bobbie Kendrick), tenderly updates his wife.
Then Claire’s teenage son, Kenny (Elliot Peters), bursts in, demanding bus money. Richard calmly tolerates the teen’s belligerent behavior and crude verbal abuse.
As Richard showers, a large masked man wearing prison clothes and one half of a pair of handcuffs, leaps from under the bed. Zach (Ed Cardoza) tells Claire he’s her brother and insists she come with him, claiming that Richard plans to murder her. Zach limps and has a speech impediment.
They hurry out, headed to see their mother. At Claire’s urging, Zach removes his mask, revealing gruesome scar tissue.
When they arrive, Gertie (Jill Turnbow), recently recovering from a stroke, is happy to see her daughter — but not Zach.
Shortly afterward, a hand puppet appears at the open kitchen window, saying foul things. Manipulating the puppet and giving it voice is the schizophrenic Millet (Michael Shanley). Zach’s cohort, Millet is chagrined by having no control over his repugnant alter ego. He also has a handcuff attached.
Zach has Claire and Millet hide in the cellar, where Claire hula hoops while chanting jump-rope rhymes, encouraging Millet to sing along. When Millet objects, she cozies up with him as if getting to know the shy boy next door. This is hard to swallow, considering that this naive, attractive woman is sequestered with a mentally disturbed criminal.
In the meantime, Richard picks up Kenny at the bus stop to drive with him to find Claire. Kenny fiddles with the radio, which plays brief snatches of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and another good tune of the time. After he flagrantly lights a joint, the radio appropriately plays Ringo Starr’s “No No Song.”
Getting a contact high from the pot, Richard then takes a long toke. With the car filled with smoke, they get pulled over by a cop, Heidi (Shawna Volpa).
In between scenes, the dreamlike lighting, paired with the shadows and silhouettes of the cast as they rearrange the set, seem like something from a separate, silent play.
Director Gregg Wolff has his capable hands full directing this professional cast, especially when the action gets unbearably chaotic.
Johnson is excellent as the comely, trusting Claire, especially during a monologue when she recalls a childhood memory.
Turnbow’s role is the most challenging, as she must memorize Gertie’s nonsensical dialogue. Because Gertie’s garbled speech is nearly undecipherable, the onus is on Claire to untangle the words to get the laughs.
Shanley is magnificent as Millet, swiftly shifting between his normally introverted personality to the puppet’s booming, terrifying voice. It’s like something out of “The Exorcist.”
As Zach, the limping man, Cardoza is terrific. He throws his weight around, yet is gentle with Claire — shades of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Kendrick smoothly switches from a normal Mr. Nice Guy and a patient father to a cornered paranoid.
As an unhappy teen, Peters convincingly cloaks his feelings with a cocky attitude.
With self-assured graceful physicality, Volpa does a great job portraying a tough, capable cop,
Like a house of mirrors, the plot of “Fuddy Meers” takes shocking twists and turns, revealing that most of the characters are entirely different than how they initially seemed. Even Kenny’s obnoxious behavior is justified.