Forgetfulness of things past
Chico Cabaret debuts a zany Ashland hit about memory, dysfunctional families and sarcastic hand puppets.
Phil Ruttenburg has a problem. The owner and manager of the Chico Cabaret, out in the Almond Orchard Shopping Center, has what looks to be the Northern California debut of a currently running Ashland hit on his hands. Certainly, most local theater companies would sell their thespian souls for such an opportunity. So what’s the problem? He’s worried that not enough of you are going to find out about it!
And so, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I’m seated in the cool confines of the Cabaret space, watching a rehearsal of Fuddy Meers, a frankly raw-nerved and extremely funny work by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Local Burger Hut meister Jim Williams wears a blue ski mask and lies on the stage, hidden behind three chairs (which substitute for a bed), his character waiting for an opportune moment to snatch actress Jeri Campos away to a hilariously ridiculous rendezvous with fate.
Campos plays Claire, a character suffering from a peculiar brain anomaly referred to in the script as “psychogenic amnesia.” Every morning when she wakes up, Claire literally starts a new day: she cannot remember anything that transpired the day before! So her husband, Richard, played by an actor known only as Christopher (apparently, this is his legal moniker), presents her each morning with a sort of journal describing who he is, who her son is, what their situation is, and most important who Claire is.
Claire’s adolescent son from a previous marriage, Kenny (Brendan McDonough), is an obnoxious, pot-puffing monster who freely enters the couple’s bedroom and snakes a 20 from his mom’s purse while cursing at his gently reprimanding stepfather. As soon as these last two exit, Williams springs up.
“There’s nothing in here [the journal] about strange men appearing from under the bed!” remarks Claire, only slightly perplexed. And it is from there that this hilariously twisted take on perception, self-identity and dysfunctional families blasts off for the comedic stratosphere. Claire is whisked away to an encounter with her stroke-stricken mother, who slurs and bends her words into almost unrecognizable utterances.
”Fuddy Meers refers to a time when the family was together and things were pretty good, when things were happy,” Ruttenburg says to me before the rehearsal, talking about what attracted him to this play. “There are photographs of them [the family] at the Piedmont Fair, in the ‘funny mirrors’ [at a funhouse].” When asked if the play is a kind of farce, Ruttenburg replies, “It is in some ways, but we’re playing the characters real. That’s the difficulty. There’s a tendency to go ‘farce’ on the audience, you know, to be almost cartoonish. The humor really arises more from the situations, but the people are very real. Claire is surrounded by tragedy. Her current husband has a history that we don’t find out about until later. And it all gets connected. But the whole thing is just hilarious.”
Rounding out the cast are Natalie Valencia as Heidi, a high-strung cop, Michele Bechard as Gertie, Claire’s stroke altered mother, and Marc Edson as Millet, Jim Williams’ character’s accomplice (a big guy who gets into arguments with a shrill monkey hand puppet situated on his own left hand!). The scenes I was privileged to witness were shaping up well, and I laughed out loud at several situations. This is gonna be good.
The show opens Friday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m., and continues Thursdays through Saturdays until July 28. A special Sunday brunch matinee occurs July 22 at 1 p.m., brunch seating beginning at 11:45 a.m. Dinner is available Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 6 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for the show only and $22 for the dinner and brunch shows. Diners must call the theater (895-0245) 24 hours before the day of the show to reserve their meals. Due to language content, this show is recommended for mature audiences.