The dark farce may be the trickiest type of play to pull off. Hitting the right note of amusingly absurdist anarchy, while eliciting laughs from the darkest corner of human existence, is a huge challenge — one the Rubicon Theatre Company’s new production of Fuddy Meers only occasionally meets.
Now 20 years old, the play was the first success of David Lindsay-Abaire, who would go on to write the naturalistic dramas Rabbit Hole and Good People. The plot centers around a woman (Precious Chong) with a strange form of amnesia: She awakens every morning with her memory wiped clean. When a man, who calls himself her brother, whisks her away to visit their mother, it sets into motion a complex plot involving escaped convicts, including one who can only truly speak through a foul-mothed hand puppet.
It’s a deliberately cartoonish piece that contains more violence than a typical Road Runner short, including onstage stabbings and brawls, and a detailed description of a gruesome assault featuring hot bacon grease. The point seems to be that people who can’t communicate — and almost every character is hampered in that ability for one reason or another — lash out at each other, physically or otherwise. An accurate observation, but is it funny? In this production, only sporadically. Perhaps the play hasn’t dated well; perhaps this is a mismatch between director and material. Jenny Sullivan is one of the best, but her pacing seems awfully slow for a farce. Jim Prodger’s set design, however, perfectly captures the work’s darkly whimsical tone.