Comedy and tragedy, laughter and despair, humor and mental health issues—one would expect these elements to be intrinsically contradictory, yet the lines between these historically separated genres blend and distort in Philaletheis’ production of “Fuddy Meers,” directed by Sam Peterson ’20 and premiering on Thursday, Nov. 2, in the Shiva at 7 p.m.
A dark comedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-nominated playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, “Fuddy Meers” explores a day in the life of a woman who suffers from psychogenic amnesia and thus wakes up every morning not knowing who she is.
Likened by Peterson to “a twisted version of Drew Barrymore’s character in ‘50 First Dates,’” the protagonist relies on the rest of the play’s characters to reconstruct her identity for her, and her interactions with these people are then used to inform her own self-perception. As a result, the audience sees the plot unfold through her eyes, and they follow her journey, learning more and more about her as she learns more and more about herself.
Actor Emma LaPlace ’20, who plays the protagonist Claire, highlighted the intricacies of her character development: “It’s interesting to follow her growth through the show because she transitions from being someone completely clueless and confused—because it’s very diffi- cult for her to separate herself from everyone’s varying definitions of her—to someone who’s very strong and is finally able to make her own decisions. I hope that the audience is able to recognize the strength in her character by the end of it and see it as something that’s both triumphant and sad.” The intrinsic sadness is echoed in the fact that no matter how powerful her search for truth is, she is going to wake up the next morning as a blank slate and have to start all over.
Peterson further illuminated the nuances of the show’s message: “It plays with this idea of truth, that not everyone is exactly who they say they are and how even the protagonist is not quite who everyone is telling her she is. It has a unique psychological perspective, where one starts to question the construction of reality and how the experience of the exact same entity can differ from person to person.” The play draws on the elements of a psychological thriller, as it incorporates a slew of extremely layered characters who have ambiguous aspects to their personalities and backgrounds that leave one unsure of what each person is actually capable of by the end of the show.
While many cast members were reluctant to disclose the meaning behind the ambiguous title, hoping to preserve the gravity of its impact for when one watches the show themselves, LaPlace elaborated briefly on its significance: “I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will say this: It’s fitting that the title is so confusing because it acts as a precursor to the twisted and confusing nature of the play itself.”
The play walks the fine line between innocence and darkness, adopting a humorous tone even as it explores somber issues ranging from the struggles of amnesia and stroke victims, to the plights of those who battle drug addiction, domestic abuse and suicidal ideation. LaPlace expanded on their approach to these topics: “We make sure that we don’t laugh at the issues because the actual subject matter is very tragic, but rather we try to find the lighter moments within this heavy premise and balance the seriousness through a comedic exploration of it.”
Actor Matt Stein ’18 [Full Disclosure: Stein is the Arts Editor for The Miscellany News], who plays Claire’s husband Richard, commented, “From the outset, we’re dealing with a character who has amnesia. That in itself is inherently very serious, and as we go deeper in, the plot becomes increasingly complicated and layered.” He emphasized that they tried to focus the comedy on the aspects of these serious issues that can be satirized without taking away from the weight of the issues themselves.
Ultimately, “Fuddy Meers” balances comedic innocence and dark tragedy, drawing laughs regarding issues that one traditionally feels uncomfortable laughing about. Stein further elaborated on the value of approaching the show in this way: “This play brings up where comedy can be directed and how comedy and tragedy can actually be very smoothly intertwined. It teaches you how to approach these difficult conversations in a way that also ensures you’re not too overwhelmed by them.”
Beyond the plot and the writing, the sound design also contributes to the contradictory quality of the play. Sound designer Joe Abriatis ’20 explained, “The sound definitely has a funhouse quality to it. From the very start of the show, with the first ringing of the alarm clock, you get the feeling that the sound doesn’t quite line up with the set, and this only acts as indication for what is to come.”
The contrast between severity and humor that is weaved into the play is ultimately meant to culminate in a surreal sort of discomfort for the audience, drawing almost nervous laughter from onlookers. As Peterson explained, “While watching the show, there are many scenes where, even as you’re laughing, it makes you wonder, ‘Should I be laughing at this?’ and I think that if the audience asks themselves that, then it’ll enhance their experience of the play. We hope that audiences do laugh with the characters, but that they also take something away from that laughter—a certain degree of insight into the dark struggles of these characters and how these struggles are very real for a lot of people.”