No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Fuddy Meers’

No Refund Theatre returns with the second production in their spring catalog. This week, the organization presents “Fuddy Meers”.

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by third-year student Kathleen DeAngelis, Fuddy Meers encapsulates the essence of everyday life with both comedic genius and tragic reality. A representation of life’s diverse struggles, the dark comedy covers complex familial relationships and internal dilemmas of self under the umbrella of a simple truth: while undoubtedly difficult for the individual, reflecting on the past is the only way to change the future.

Before the curtain rises, the title cleverly foreshadows the story about to unfold, as the words “Fuddy Meers” hint at the funny mirrors often found within boardwalk funhouse experiences. These reflections of reality warped within funhouses quite literally symbolize the distortions of reality presented within the work. Throughout the show, characters attempt to change and reflect honestly against their own twisted views of self, looking inward as one might view their distorted reflection of self in a funny mirror.

Set in the Northeast in the 1990s, Fuddy Meers centers on middle-aged mother Claire, a lovable but tormented character. Suffering from psychogenic amnesia, Claire relies on her husband, Richard, and son, Kenny, to relearn her own life every single day. Waking up with no recollection of self, history, or family, Claire is essentially helpless without Richard’s guidance and his accompanying written history of her life.

When awaking one morning to restart her daily routine, Claire encounters the Limping Man, a troubled character who whisks Claire away with manipulative tactics of deceit and exaggeration. Upon discovering that his wife’s gone missing, Richard frantically sets out on the search for Claire, encountering other eccentric characters including a reformed criminal turned puppet master, police-impersonating, love-struck prison cook, and Claire’s own mother, Gertie, an elderly woman left speaking in gibberish after a recent stroke.

Stuck between her kidnapper and her husband, Claire is helpless yet not hopeless as chaos ensues on this daily quest for reality. As she attempts to regain understanding before the evening’s slumber wipes her memory, the audience learns of the dark pasts of many characters as they pursue a better future, emphasizing the message that while yesterday can be hurtful to look back upon, honest reflection is essential for a better tomorrow.

In tackling the complexities of the Pulitzer-prize winning author’s work, director Kathleen DeAngelis coupled the written word with acting talent presented on stage. Remarking on the play’s unique role as the perfect match for NRT’s current talent, DeAngelis explained the show’s value for the organization.

“It has so many different themes, and it’s very interesting and dynamic,” the director said. “There was a lot, and it was very fun to see what this club could do with it.”

Emphasizing the combination of cast and complexity, assistant director and third-year student Joshua Sanville explained the importance of the connection between actor and script.

“It’s a comedy, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that,” he said. “They’ve handled these themes with such grace and tact.”

Reflecting on bringing this intricate story to the Penn State community, DeAngelis revealed a key to her early success within the production process.

“It’s been very fast, but very fun. We made sure to get in a lot of cast bonding,” she said. “Especially with the snow days, we all went sledding.”

In finding fun with castmates through the creation of the final product, the cast was able to overcome the dark aspects of the show with the lighthearted air of the organization. Inclusive, diverse, and welcoming as ever, No Refund Theatre remains a pillar of happiness for its members, permeating joy off the stage and into the audience.

In playing a lead role in his first show within the club, first-year student John Kerner discovered this truth quickly. Reflecting on his experience with his castmates, Kerner delivered first-hand how it felt to join the organization as a completely new face on stage.

“I tried out and immediately met a bunch of amazing people…I love the cast,” he said.

Elaborating on this, Kerner established a key differentiator for this production from past theatrical pursuits.

“There’s a safe environment in that everyone here is welcoming. If you need to talk about something, everyone else here is willing to listen to you,” Kerner said.

Fourth-year student Jess Raskauskas reflected similarly on the value of the cast and staff to create the final production, citing teamwork as crucial for complexity.

“Being with the people, my other castmates, really helped a lot,” she said. “It’s so much fun having those people to bounce off of because we all really worked well together.”

Relying on each other for the piece, the cast builds up courage and understanding during each rehearsal. In building a community of safety for cast members of all ages from the beginning, the director bargained for success from day one and found joy in her lifelong love of theatre.

“Theatre is my happy place,” DeAngelis said. “It’s been very nice to create that happy, fun space for everybody especially when some of the themes are very dark in the show.”

Even within this happy place, there’s no doubt that intricate, realistic aspects of the production could challenge any cast. With themes of physical violence, mental abuse, and desperate redemption, the content of the show could have easily weighed heavily, yet with the common goal of art for honesty, the cast and crew found unlimited joy in coming together for productive rehearsals and eventually, lifelong bonds.

“It’s just such a good environment to come to every day,” first-year student and actress Angelina Smith shared. “It’s what theatre should be, and we do it for the right reasons.”

From another perspective, second-year student and lighting technician, Aaron Kern, elaborated on these relationships of friends turned family.

“It was a team effort, but really more of a family effort,” he said. “It all came together, and it never felt like work.”

With their family dynamic established as a complete contrast to the dysfunctional family values displayed on stage, the cast felt comfortable rising to the challenges of the production with individualized professionalism. A first-year student playing the lead role of Claire, Katie Marakovits explained her process for playing a woman mentally and physically lost as she navigates her own psychogenic amnesia.

“I go through a whole bunch of songs and I find what connects me to the character and their experiences,” she explained. “I went through and did my research, and it was wonderful to step into that character and how she dealt with those traumatic experiences.”

Reflecting joy through a detail-oriented procedure of character development, Marakovits tackled the challenge of the role with grace and comedic timing. In addition to the lead’s presentation of light within darkness, third-year student Ethan White brought another level of humor to the stage.

Playing both a troubled kidnapper and puppet character, White perfected physical comedy to lighten up even the heaviest of moments. A shining aspect of pure joy within this chaotic, realistic reflection of life, the puppet character of Hinky Binky illuminated each scene from its dark reality.

In creating the character, White shared a hilarious truth about manipulating the puppet throughout rehearsals as it became second nature.

“At the beginning, you had to actively think about moving it around, but then you just do it,” he said. “It just started moving its own head after a while.”

With humorous aspects such as puppetry and slap-stick physical comedy, the show brightened its tragic aspects with unabashed honesty akin to life’s quick shifts every day. Equally valuable in their presentation to the audience, both comedy and tragedy combined for the overarching message: growth as a function of the past and more importantly, the hope for the future.

“Everybody in the show has something they did wrong, and not everybody chooses to go about solving it the right way,” fourth-year student and actor Zachary Renda said.

As each character navigates their own regrets and mistakes, they look to explain the behavior and change the future before losing Claire’s understanding to nightfall. Renda elaborated on these efforts with a simplistic reflection that applies far beyond the production.

 “It’s about trying to make up for what you did before,” he concluded.

Explaining this theme within his own role as the Limping Man, third-year student Armand Zeibari synthesized this life lesson conveyed within each character’s actions toward the path of redemption.

“Grow from the past. It’s okay to try and move past it, but you can’t forget about it,” he said. “When it comes to trying to redeem yourself, you have to remember what mistakes you made in order to grow… and not do the same exact thing.”

Three performances of Fuddy Meers will be presented in Forum 111 at 8 p.m. on February 3, February 4, and February 5. As always, NRT performances are free of charge. A trigger warning is stressed for language, physical violence, and abuse within the show.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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