Nothing is as it seems in this dark comedy that concerns memory loss as a result of unspeakable trauma. What easily could have been a penetrating study of domestic abuse becomes an absurdist romp through a single day in the life of Claire (Denise Dillard), an amnesiac who wakes up each new day having to reinvent her life. Director David Rose applies his well-honed comedic directorial style to this West Coast premiere by David Lindsay-Abaire.
The playwright surrounds Claire with an assortment of odd characters. Her immediate family tops the list with husband Richard (Jonathan Palmer) who presents Claire with breakfast and a complete picture book illustrating her daily routine and relationships. Her son, Kenny (Michael Reisz), is a characteristically morose teen, always hinting at meanings beneath the surface. Mother Gertie (Jodi Carlisle) has suffered a stroke and now cannot put a sentence together. The play gives witness, however, to a day unlike all the others: A mysterious stranger (Donald Sage Mackay) upsets Richard's carefully constructed domestic idyll, and into Claire's life tumble more bent people to befuddle her. A puppet-toting gangster (Nick DeGruccio) and an inefficient lady cop named Heidi (Lisa Beezley) add to Claire's confusion. Together they reflect Claire's life through fuddy meers, which is Gertie-speak for a distorting fun-house mirror.
Rose has assembled his cast from a strong set of Colony residents, making a convincing argument for continuing to nurture actors in a resident theatre environment. Carlisle heads this group, combining understated comedic timing with dark urgency that speaks to both needs of the script. Notable also is DeGruccio as gangster Millet, a misunderstood school janitor who vents his aggressions through his puppet, Binky. One of the show's funniest moments occurs when Millet frantically tries to resuscitate Binky, who has been "cut." In Beezley's hands, Heidi becomes a tough marshmallow who will break anybody who messes with her fragile heart. Palmer, as the innocent husband with a dark past, brings naïve exuberance to the part, and Denise Dillard portrays sunny confusion as Claire. Mackay never wavers as a stressed escaped convict, whose twisted set of priorities sets the action in motion. Reisz, too, stays grounded in reality, thus making his dilemma all the more tragicomic.
Although Rose scores in leading this talented crew through a comedic minefield, when it becomes time to deal with the realities behind each character they have to travel too far to adequately register the reality of a prevalent social ill. Partly it is the writing that trivializes the problem. However, the actors have worked so hard to elicit laughter that their descent into recognition feels rushed. An imaginative and versatile set by Robert L. Smith allows the proceedings to unfold cinematically without sacrificing the flow of action. Lisa D. Katz's lighting serves well, but the scenes in the car are not as tightly lighted as they might be. Costuming by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg also serves the interpretation.
"Fuddy Meers," presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Feb. 8-Mar. 9. $22-28. (818) 558-7000.