TURLOCK -- Raw, aggressive and twisted, the dark comedy "Fuddy Meers" comes at audiences with the force of a hurricane and doesn't let up until the end.
It centers on Claire, a woman with amnesia who must relearn every morning who she is from her husband and teenage son. One day, a man with a severely deformed face shows up and says he's her brother and can give her the real truth about her life. He takes her to meet their stroke-damaged mother and an odd friend who doesn't go anywhere without his foul-mouthed sock puppet. Claire soon realizes that her history is more complicated than she could imagine.
The 1999 play, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole") has been performed at California State University, Stanislaus, and is being staged by alumnus Joshua Morriston at the newly remodeled Carnegie Arts Center's small loft performance space. His production is taut, fast-paced and loud with a constant sense that somebody or something might explode at any moment.
If the characters aren't cursing or screaming at each other, they are threatening each other with guns, knives or shovels. But each is so off-the-charts strange that it's impossible to take any of it seriously. The 30 people who showed up to the opening night performance Friday (the space seats about 80) laughed hard and long throughout the show.
The cast of seven local actors, including three brothers, works well together, with each performer playing off the others with perfect timing.
Emily Gomes' Claire is sweet and innocent with a wide-eyed curiosity. She has a childlike energy and gets excited about every new fact she pieces together about her background. Carin Heidelbach is hilarious as her feisty mother who manages to communicate what she wants despite inverting her words and not being able to say any sentence clearly (the play's title comes from her mispronunciation of "funny mirrors").
Craig Tyhurst (Claire's husband) and Tyler Bremmer (Claire's son) have their funniest moments when they end up smoking marijuana together in a car while searching for Claire. Their interactions with stern police officer Heidi (Stefanie Baker Morriston) are priceless.
But it's Bremmer's brothers Julian and Jordan who contribute the most outlandish performances. Julian is constantly amped up as Millet, an escaped prisoner who lets his sock puppet do most of the talking. Jordan, who plays his friend and Claire's brother, goes back and forth between teddy bear sweetness and vicious outbursts he goes insane when anyone mentions anything about bacon.
There are a lot of twists and turns as Claire gathers information about her life. She learns that some of the people aren't who they seem and not everyone who says he wants to help has her best interests at heart.
The living room set is simple but effective, but the scene changes are a bit slow. The seating in the Carnegie Arts Center is not the most comfortable and audience members who don't sit in the front row have a good chance of having an obstructed view.
But for those who like their theater off-kilter and unconventional, "Fuddy Meers" will be worth any inconvenience.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
WHERE: Carnegie Arts Center, 250 N. Broadway, Turlock
WHEN: 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. July 19-21.
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes, including intermission
TICKETS: $10 general, $8 Carnegie members and students
INFORMATION: (209) 632-5761 or www.carnegieartsturlock.org
* * * * Excellent; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor