David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers begins like a Kafka story—or like any "suspense" flick that might have gone straight to Cinemax—with its main character waking up. Sweet-natured Claire (Mo Arii) suffers from "psychogenic amnesia" due to an undisclosed trauma, and as a result, she wakes every morning with no memory. Her husband, Richard (Patrick Gwaltney), keeps a small journal with all the pertinent facts she needs to know in order to greet the morning: she's married, she has a son, she loves search-a-word puzzles. As Richard patiently explains the situation, Claire brightens to the prospect of a day full of new possibilities. She's not a victim, and this isn't a typical Lifetime network story of determined people overcoming disabilities.
Any remaining doubts are banished when a Limping Man (Matt Tully) with a serious lisp crawls out from under Claire's bed and tells her that her husband is planning to kill her. Things, naturally, get screwy. Claire and the man flee to her mother Gertie's house; Gertie (Johnna Adams) has had a stroke and speaks only gibberish. There, they're joined by Millet (Steven Lamprinos), an escaped convict toting a foul-mouthed hand puppet named Hinky Binky (Himself). It's that kind of play.
Director Gary Krinke's gifted cast hits all the right comic notes. Arii and Gwaltney's scenes are sweetly off-kilter, and Tully pulls off the neat trick of being both silly and scary at the same time. Some of the play's best moments belong to Adams and Lamprinos; Gertie's struggle to articulate and Millet's decision to redeem himself manage to transcend Krinke's relentlessly manic comic tone to connect with the fractured humanity at the heart of Abaire's play and remind us that there are few things more touching or true than the overwhelming need for broken people to try to fix themselves. Ultimately, Claire's affliction may actually be a gift: after all, when you don't have a past, you don't have anything to lie about. You also don't have anything to lose.
Fuddy Meers at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Feb. 8. $12-$15.
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