Notes
on the
NSU Theatre presentation of
Fuddy Meers
By David Lindsay-Abaire


Synopsis

Fuddy Meers starts off just as just another normal day for Claire (Melissa Jacobson). She wakes up and greets the morning. Her husband, Richard (Nathan Payant), brings her a cup of coffee, and patiently explains that she suffers from a form of psychogenic amnesia that erases her memory every night when she goes to sleep. Claire takes the news rather cheerfully, but unlike other mornings, has a few serious questions to ask. Things really start to go awry when a furtive limping, lisping, half-deaf man in a ski mask (Raphael Duncan) kidnaps Claire, and her husband will stop at nothing to get her back. Other characters we meet along Claire's journey include Kenny (Michael C. Novack), Claire's overgrown eighth grade son who has issues of his own, Claire's mother, Gertie (Mary Dodson), who speaks in "stroke talk," Millet (Jeremy Swanston), an ex-convict with a foul mouthed puppet, and Heidi (Heather Woehlhaff), a very intense woman who may or may not be a cop. David Lindsay-Abaire's wacky yet poignant comedy proves that no family dysfunction is insurmountable.

About the Playwright

David Lindsay-Abaire grew up in Boston, in a family of five he described as "very blue collar," his mother was a factory worker and his father worked for the Chelsea Fruit Market where he sold fruit off the back of a truck. He attended Boston public schools until the seventh grade when he received a 6-year scholarship to the Milton Academy, a tiny private New England boarding school. He first got interested in playwrighting there, where he contributed what he called "terrible, terrible plays" as a result of the school's tradition of presenting original student work. He went on to major in theatre at Sarah Lawrence College, and was accepted into the highly prestigious Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Julliard School, where he wrote under the tutelage of Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang.

David has received commissions from South Coast Rep, Dance Theater Workshop and the Jerome Foundation, as well as awards from the Berilla Kerr Foundation, the Lincoln Center LeComte du Nuoy Fund, Mixed Blood Theater, Primary Stages, The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and the South Carolina Playwrights Festival.

Among his influences, Lindsay-Abaire lists playwrights John Guare, Edward Albee, Georges Feydeau, Eugene Ionesco, and George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, 1930's screwball comedy films My Man Godfrey and Twentieth Century or "anything by Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello." Walking a fine line between grave reality and joyous lunacy, the world of his plays is often dark, funny, blithe, enigmatic, hopeful, ironic- and somewhat cock-eyed. "My plays tend to be peopled with outsiders in search of clarity."

He returned to the scene of his Fuddy Meers success, the Manhattan Theatre Club, last fall with Wonder of the World, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, about a wife who suddenly leaves her husband, and hops a bus to Niagara Falls in search of freedom, enlightenment and the meaning of life. Other plays he has written include, Dotting and Dashing (1999), Snow Angel (1999), The L'il Plays (1997) and A Devil Inside (1997).

About the Play

The genesis of Fuddy Meers started with a news report that David Lindsay-Abaire happened to see about a book that had as its subject a variety of neurological disorders. One of the most interesting of them described a very specific form of amnesia where everything is erased when you fall asleep. When he returned to the idea some months later, he could not find the book and part of him "wondered if (he) had made the whole thing up."

Working on the first scene, he wondered "what is it like to wake up and not recognize the bed you're in, the clothes you're wearing, the people around you?" As the play began to take shape, he realized what a convenient device the amnesia was to get the play's exposition out of the way quickly. He then jumped to the last scene, questioning "what is it like at the end of the day for this family? After living a full day with her, making strides and filling in those blank spaces, what is it like when she starts yawning? What is it like to lose her all over again?" Having in effect written the scenes that are the bookends of the play, he would write the rest of the play in sequence, "trying to surprise myself with every reveal…with the story in place, the themes then floated to the surface without much tweaking from me." Lindsay-Abaire found that he readily identified with the characters he was creating stating that "to me, the world is this insane, crazy place filled with insane, crazy people, and so to me it's funny and a little unsettling, but not necessarily unrealistic- just amped up a bit."

Lindsay-Abaire was writing Fuddy Meers while attending Julliard. His assignment in his playwrighting class was to bring ten pages a week. "I was sort of writing it like a Dickens novel. Every ten pages I wanted to leave with a semi-good cliffhanger so my classmates would wonder, 'What's he going to bring in next week?'"

Sitting through the many auditions necessary to cast the first production of Fuddy Meers at the Manhattan Theatre Club, the playwright realized how tricky getting the tone of the play right for actors was. "Some folks came in thinking 'this is a wacky comedy'… and the result would be a broad cartoon." Navigating that fine line between "silly and farcical" and "psychologically grounded and real" was one of the many challenges for the actors in the first production of the play.

Following a workshop production at the Julliard School, and a staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 1998, the play opened on October 12, 1999 at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II to critical acclaim, and transferred to the Minetta Lane Theatre on January 27, 2000, where it ran until April of that year. It won the 1998 Primary Stages Phil Bosakowski Bug and Bub Award, and was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwrighting Award There is a movie planned for Fuddy Meers and the playwright (who will be writing the screenplay) hopes to interest "independent -minded producers who understand and like the script for what it is, not what they're going to turn it into."

Critical Responses for the Original Production

"Heady fun! Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is a welcome arrival … Since at least that famous time when Dante got lost in a dark forest six centuries ago and felt an urgent need for explanations, people have been waking up at halfway points in their existences and wondering what on earth they're doing there. Where, after all, would American literature be without the midlife crisis? Still it seems unlikely that anyone has approached this much-discussed juncture with the buoyancy, friendliness and utter literal-mindedness of Claire, the perplexed but game heroine of Fuddy Meers, the dark, sweet and thoroughly engaging comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire." Ben Brantley, The New York Times

"Uproarious. You'll adore them all." Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"You know those desperate nightmares, the ones in which somebody says something you urgently need to hear- but you cannot quite make out the words? Well, that's nothing compared to a day in the puzzling life of sweet Claire, psychogenic amnesiac, who awakens each morning with just hours to understand her plight before going to sleep and forgetting it all again… and so it goes in Fuddy Meers, David Lindsay-Abaire's amusing little American-gothic-outlaw-absurdist- nightmare farce." Linda Winer, Newsday

"Exhilarating. A wacky delight." Entertainment Weekly

"Non-stop hilarity. Kidnapping, amnesia and oddballs make for a first rate farce" David Kaufman, NY Daily News

"A swift trip down the rabbit's hole into a wacky wonderland… Settle back and enjoy the laughter (in this) nutty 'n' nice comedy." The Star Ledger

"The evening explodes with laughter... Call the play errant, aberrant, or Abairant, Lindsay-Abaire proves a bare minimum less funny than Ionesco, whose true heir he is- nothing to look down your nose (never mind sneeze) at… Wicked fun." John Simon, New York Magazine

"Mixing high-pitched farce with the otherworldly fantasies of Roald Dahl (creates) a show that seems like a child's vivid dream…with characters that exist in a pleasantly distorted world." Jason Zinoman, Time Out New York

"A hand puppet having a near-death experience- 'everything is going dark'- is only one of the truly inventive aspects of Fuddy Meers, a wild ride comedy that introduces David Lindsay-Abaire to New York. His is a comic world that is dark, distorted and dangerous but also (happily for us), entertainingly original." Karl Levett, Backstage

" 'Pee-Wee's Playhouse' meets the 'Jerry Springer Show' in Fuddy Meers an antically funny play by David Lindsay-Abaire." Christopher Isherwood, Variety

About NSU Theatre's Production

The cast for NSU's production is as follows, in the role of amnesiac Claire is Melissa Jacobson, her husband Richard is Nathan Payant, and their son Kenny is Michael C. Novack. Mary Dodson will play Claire's mother, who speaks in "stroke-talk". Rounding out the ensemble will be Raphael Duncan in the role of the mysterious Limping Man, Jeremy Swanston as his cohort Millet, and Heather Woehlhaff as Heidi the cop. NSU Director of Theatre, Daniel Yurgaitis, directs the play and the scenic design will be by NSU Technical Director, Larry Wild. Student DeWayne Davis will be designing the lights and sound, and the entire production will be stage managed by Chris Maunu. The play will be presented in a thrust staging (audience seated on three sides of the stage) in the Johnson Fine Arts Center.

Fuddy Meers will be presented for four performances, beginning April 24 through 27, at 7:30 pm nightly. Tickets are $8.00, $7.00 for students and seniors. This play does contain some adult language and themes, and is recommended as suitable for the same audiences as a PG-13 film. Tickets will be available in the NSU bookstore beginning on Monday, April 15, or by mail. Call the NSU Bookstore at 626- 2655 or the NSU Department of Theatre at 626-2563 for additional information.


E-mail questions and comments to Daniel Yurgaitis at yurgaitd@northern.edu.
Updated: March 6, 2002
2002 by Daniel Yurgaitis, Northern State University