If you’ve ever had the dizzying feeling you’re watching the world through the twisted reflection of a fun-house mirror, you’re already familiar with the central metaphor of “Fuddy Meers,” now in revival at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre.
Time seems to have caught up with the darkly comic play that launched the career of David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole,” “Kimberly Akimbo”). The loopy plot and reality-upending antics, which looked so outlandish in 1999, now seem woven from today’s headlines — particularly in the trauma-laden swamps of the #MeToo era.
The platitude that “every day’s a new day” rings true with a vengeance for Lindsay-Abaire’s heroine, Claire (Precious Chong), a victim of psychogenic amnesia who greets each day as a blank slate. Every morning, Claire awakens to the same selective recap of her life, delivered with gentle, well-rehearsed patience by a complete stranger named Richard (Joseph Fuqua), who claims to be her husband. Just as unrecognizable to Claire is her supposed son Kenny (Seryozha La Porte), a sullen hulk of pot-smoking teenage angst.
Each time Claire falls asleep the slate is wiped clean, and the cycle begins anew. Except that on this particular day, her sheltered routine is overturned with the home invasion by a menacing, scarred man (Stephen Caffrey) who says he’s Claire’s long-lost brother, Zack, come to rescue her from grave danger.
The surreal road trip that follows would be right at home in a David Lynch film. Bizarre characters Claire encounters along the way include a kidnapped cop (Tracy A. Leigh) with a curious affinity for her captors, a mild-mannered thief (Louis Lotorto) who channels his dark side through a foul-mouthed hand puppet, and Claire’s mom (DeeDee Rescher), a recovering stroke victim whose garbled speech inventively flirts with comprehensibility. (The play’s title is her version of the “funny mirrors” that hold the key to Claire’s past.)
In other words, these are all damaged people, and none are what they appear to be.
The role of Claire is ideally suited to Chong, a former L.A. stage regular making her return after moving to Canada more than a decade ago. With each twist in unraveling the mystery of Claire’s identity and the trauma that led to her condition, Chong strikes an endearing balance of trepidation and exhilaration.
Similarly, under Jenny Sullivan’s direction, the cast brings clarity and a sense of genuine stakes to each of Lindsay-Abaire’s flamboyant characters.
Accomplished individual performances notwithstanding, there’s room for tightening the ensemble’s comic timing, especially in the overlapping frenzied slapstick sequences. In the play’s more serious aspects, however, the production masterfully illuminates the characters’ struggles to move beyond their own limitations.
Amid today’s alternative cherry-picked realities, it’s never been easier to identify with the play’s central conflict between Claire’s desire for escapist comfort and her need to know what’s real and true. In a surprisingly touching resolution, Lindsay-Abaire holds out the hope that breaking our familiar routines might just be a way out of the impasse. Or, as one of his fun-house characters puts it, “Stability is a fragile figurine.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 31
Info: (805) 667-2900 or rubicontheatre.org
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