'Blue Leaves': Tale of a wannabe

Comedy-drama opens this weekend at Perseverance

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

Nothing makes you feel important like being loved.

It's a simple message, but it's a message Artie Shaughnessy just can't get in ``The House of Blue Leaves.'' John Guare's comic drama opens Friday at Perseverance Theatre, offering a look inside the chaotic home of wannabe songwriter Artie Shaughnessy.

Shaughnessy, played by Patrick Moore, is a zookeeper in Queens, N.Y. He's also an aspiring composer with a wife and 18-year-old son. Shaughnessy is a wannabe in every sense - he wants to be famous, he wants to be loved, he wants out of his marriage and he wants out of New York. In all that wanting, he's overlooking everything he's got.

That's the whole point of the play, said actress Annie Stokes. Stokes plays Artie's hapless wife, Bananas Shaughnessy, a witty, insightful woman who's half-crazy - thanks largely to Artie.

``In many families there are people who really want to be somebody. Their dream of being somebody is more important than just loving the people in their house,'' Stokes said. ``If everybody in the house thinks being somebody revolves around being famous or knowing somebody famous - then you missed the boat. And everybody in the house suffers greatly.''


Moore said the playwright also makes a strong statement about celebrity worship in ``The House of Blue Leaves.''

``Guare was disgusted by the way people worship celebrities. He's trying to follow that to its conclusion,'' he said.

Artie's fixated on his old Army buddy Billy Einhorn, played by Ron DeLay. Einhorn made Army training films, then went off to Hollywood and became a famous director.

Artie's girlfriend, Bunny Flingus, played by Alanna Malone, has him convinced Billy is his ticket to stardom.

The entire play is set in the Shaughnessy's Queens apartment - one flight up from Bunny's. Between Bunny's conniving, Banana's ranting, and the uninvited drop-in guests, the play ranges from slap-stick comedy to pointed social commentary.

``It's full of really smart writing and just plain fun,'' director Cynthia Croot said.

Croot is working on her master's degree in directing at Columbia University in New York City. She met Perseverance Theatre's artistic director Peter DuBois in New York City a few years ago and talked with him about coming to Alaska to direct a show at the Douglas theater.

She flew out last winter to direct the theater's radio play ``Air Traffic'' and returned this winter for ``The House of Blue Leaves.''

One of Croot's challenges with the show has been to maximize the comedy without going over the top.

``There's a balance. It's a domestic melodrama about abuse and neglect - or it's a circus. You have to ride that line between the extremes,'' she said.

Stokes, who teaches acting at University of Alaska Southeast, said this kind of comic tragedy is one of the most valuable types of theater.

``It's written to be funny, so it's not so painful,'' she said. ``A dark comedy is supposed to talk about serious content and substance, and then lift you out of it and give you a break to laugh at it.''

Moore said that balance is written right into the script. He had the lead a few years ago in another dark comedy at Perseverance, ``Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?''

``With `Virginia Woolf,' we had to mine the script for comedy. Here it's in the script, in the language,'' he said. ``The second act is wacky and zany. It pulls you into the comedy. It gives you the relief and laughs, and sets up the final resolution. It's well constructed.''

Stokes said she was drawn to the role because she knows people like Bananas Shaughnessy.

``I did it for all the lost mothers in the world,'' she said. ``All the women that felt like they were nobody.''

The play is set in 1965, and Stokes said the women of that generation, the mothers of the baby boomers, were particularly vulnerable.

``That's my mother's generation. They went through the war, had babies right away. (There's) a lot of lost women in that generation.'' she said.

``I think people will have a good time, then go home and wonder, `Why don't people feel like (they're) somebody?''' she said.

``The House of Blue Leaves'' opens at 8 p.m. Friday. There's a pay-as-you-can preview at 7:30 tonight. The show runs through April 2, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $13 to $17 Thursdays and Sundays, and $18 to $22 Fridays and Saturdays.

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