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Inspired lunacy fills "Fuddy Meers" at the Firehouse Theatre.

Very "Fuddy," Indeed

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"You're all crazy." So says the character of Millet (Justin Dray) to the rest of the cast of "Fuddy Meers," the latest production from the Firehouse Theatre Project. It is the most succinct statement that can be made about the characters that populate this remarkably surreal and consistently surprising play.

To appreciate just how illustrative this remark is, you must realize that Millet is a demented escaped convict who spends most of the evening speaking through a sock puppet he calls Binky. If he's the pot, imagine the kettles he's working with.

They include Zachary (Peter Boyer), also an escaped convict, with a pronounced lisp and an odd aversion to bacon. Zachary might be the play's hero. Or it may be Richard (Christopher Dunn), a too-happy hospital technician with a checkered past who seems to think nothing of hijacking a cop or getting high with his son, Kenny.

That we don't really know who's who or what's what is part of the fun of this rollicking tale, which first and foremost is the story of Claire (Kim Neblett). Claire has an odd form of amnesia. Every day, she wakes up with her memory wiped clear. Not even sure whether she drinks coffee or not, Claire must trust Richard when he says he's her husband and that the sullen Kenny (Stephanie Kelley) is their son. When a ski-masked Zachary shows up claiming to be her brother, Claire doesn't know enough to argue, even after Zachary kidnaps her and drives off into the country to Gertie's house. Gertie (Chris Bass Randolph) may or may not be Claire's and Zachary's mother.

This all happens in the first 15 minutes of "Fuddy Meers" and, from here, the play travels a wild trajectory with humor ranging from breezy to pitch-black. Director Robin Armstrong handles it all with aplomb, keeping the pace peppy and orchestrating an amazing crescendo of mayhem to end the first act. It's a tribute to Armstrong and her cast that they even manage to milk some poignancy out of the final scene of this outrageously fractured fable.

Several Firehouse regulars fill out the cast, including Dunn, who is comically creepy as a man whose grip on sanity loosens during the course of the play. Dray effectively reins in his over-the-top tendencies to make Zachary's buddy, Millet, the show's most hilarious character. And in her cross-dressing role, Kelley captures the cadences of adolescent attitude expertly.

But the spotlight here is on two Firehouse newcomers, Neblett and Boyer. Though her character is perpetually confused, Neblett makes Claire a noble and never tragic figure. Boyer has the tougher job of trying to act from underneath all of Zachary's affectations (limp, lisp, a burnt ear and a blind eye). But particularly in the second act, Boyer rises to the occasion, his last entreaty to Claire full of vehement insincerity.

David McLain's set design makes innovative use of the theater's space, though the set pieces themselves are somewhat pedestrian. They create a plain-vanilla backdrop for a show that is otherwise full of inspired lunacy. As Zachary says: "Stability is a fragile figurine." "Fuddy Meers" smashes that figurine to bits with refreshing

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