The complete script of Fuddy Meers is published in the July/August 2000 print issue. The play is about Claire, who has amnesia; every day she wakes up a blank slate, and every day her husband tells her who she is. But, on the day Fuddy Meers begins, things are different. Today, as soon as her husband goes to take a shower, a man crawls out from under her bed, tells her he is her brother and takes her to a house where she meets her stroke-impaired mother and a strange, secretive man with a puppet. As Claire begins to regain bits of her memory, she must face an unsettling new understanding of her life.
Celia Wren: What inspired Fuddy Meers, and what was your writing process?
David Lindsay-Abaire: I saw a TV news report on a book about neurological disorders. The author talked about the kind of amnesia where, when you go to sleep, you forget everything you’ve remembered during the day, and when you wake up you’re a blank slate. I thought of the first scene and then the very last one. Otherwise, the play unfolded itself to me as it unfolds to Claire—as a series of surprises. I tried not to know where I was going with it. When the masked man stepped from under the bed, I didn’t know who he was or what he was doing there. Later on I had to go back through the script and tinker with it like a Rube Goldberg contraption.
Is the play a comic take on the popular motif of the dysfunctional family?
I didn’t go into the writing with any sort of agenda. I knew I wanted a play about a bunch of people who were trying to forget who they were and what they’d done, plus one person who needed to remember all those things. The fact that the play’s set in a dysfunctional family seems appropriate, but it wasn’t something I was commenting on. There’s a lot in the script about the difficulty of communicating within a family—how things are squelched and denied and ignored entirely. But people can suffer from that in their work environment or anywhere. It’s not exclusive to famiies.
The play contains a piquant mixture of the funny and the disturbing.
That’s what I do. I love dark and disturbing—inappropriate humor. As farcical as the play is, I don’t consider myself a joke writer. I’m trying to write outrageous farce with an underlying sadness, a real weight that peeks through the silliness.
That style reflects the play’s half-dark, half-bouyant vision of life.
I did want a unifying vision for the play. Certainly all the characters see the world in this warped way. They’re recreating themselves, putting on a mask or living in denial, so the play takes on this strange foggy quality. Memory functions like that. When we remember things, it’s in a very selective way—we remember or don’t remember certain details based on what helps us function. Remembering becomes a form of creation and re-creation. The characters in Fuddy Meers have these debilitating, awful pasts, and the only way they can carry on is to shut down and say, “I have no idea what happened in the past 30 years. I’m not the bad guy. I’m not the puppet. I’m not the one saying those things.” Of course, you can’t really ever escape who you are and what you’ve done. Aren’t we all destined to re-create our lives every day, relive our mistakes?
Unfortunately, yes. Do you draw on your memories much when you write?
I do—usually not consciously. Only after Fuddy Meers closed, after running for six months, did it occur to me how similar Gertie is to my grandmother, who had throat cancer, had her voice box removed and couldn’t communicate. It seems so obvious, but honestly, it didn’t occur to me—probably because I think in such literal ways.
Where did the funny mirrors theme come from?
It presented itself to me halfway through the play. I remember going to these incredibly cheesy country fairs when I was a child. They had this giddy, joyous quality and at the same time were horribly frightening. Those kiddy roller coasters were great, but they could bust apart at any moment, and the guys working at the game booths were obviously recent ex-cns. Those places were just filled with the scariest, scariest people.
People have compared your work to that of Christopher Durang, with whom you studied at Juilliard.
I love Chris’s work. And I don’t think there’s been a piece written about me that hasn’t mentioned the fact that he and I live in the same world. But I think I’ve also been influenced by John Guare and Tina Howe and older folks like Feydeau and Ionesco and Joe Orton.
What are some of your newer plays about?
Wonder of the World , which opened in May at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is about a woman who leaves her husband one afternoon and decides to start a brand new life—like Claire. A Devil Inside is a modern-day satire of 19th-century Russian novels, about obsession and revenge and inner demons. My newest play,Kimberly Akimbo, which South Coast Repertory will present next season, is about a 16-year-old girl who has this condition where she ages four-and-a-half times as fast as a normal person. It’s based on a real disease.
A lot of your main characters are women.
Yes. I think there are a couple of reasons why. Firstly, my mother had a huge personality and was always center stage at every family event. Secondly, I know so many actresses, and I think there’s more of a need for women’s roles than for men’s. When I start a play, I’ll think: Does it matter if this character is a man or a woman? And if it doesn’t, I make it a woman.
Like Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo has a medical theme. Is this a trend?
I don’t think so. I hope not. I don’t want to become the medical-condition guy.