Review: `The House of Blue Leaves'

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2000

First produced in 1971, ``The House of Blue Leaves'' won playwright John Guare the Obie Award for Best American Play. It may be even more timely today. It is a bitter comedy about people with no moral core, trying to grab their 15 minutes of fame, with no concern regarding the impact their actions have on the people around them.

Artie Shaughnessy (Patrick Moore) is a tone-deaf Tin Pan Alley tunesmith who wants lock up his wife, Bananas (Annie Stokes), in ``the house of blue leaves'' so he can run off to Hollywood with his girlfriend, Bunny Flingus (Alanna Malone).

Bananas, with her dream about President Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Cardinal Spellman and Bob Hope at the corners of 42nd and Broadway, shares the American cult of personality with Bunny, who is a Lolita grown old (if not up). These are the people who read People.

Artie's son, Ronnie (Owen Stokes), who missed a childhood chance to be ``America's Huck Finn,'' plans to get on the cover of Time by blowing up the Pope. (It is a sad social commentary that, 30 years ago, blowing up the Pope may have seemed outre, but after Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman, and John Hinckley, Jr. it seems passe.)

The little nun (Nena Thomas) tosses off her marriage to the Church as casually as she changes her clothes, and worships instead at the altar of TV. The characters all live in castles in the sky, and the comedy comes when their fantasies collide with reality.

Guare specializes in plays that teeter on the brink of catastrophe. Social satire and slapstick jostle cheek and jowl for our attention. A fun scene is when Ronnie and the nuns fight over the backstage passes to see the Pope at Shea Stadium. It's so good that they play it twice (a conceit exploited a lot lately: Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors, Retroactive). Also worth mentioning was Moore's ad-lib, ``Quicker than you can say Jay Rabinowitz.''

The production values are, as usual, top-notch, although this is not a usual Perseverance production. The familiar Perseverance ``wall of sound'' is much more subdued. The characteristic minimal staging is replace by an accurately detailed recreation of a Queens flat in 1965. (Billy Einhorn (Ron DeLay) looks around the apartment and says, with barely concealed distaste, "...reality - this.'') The flamingo and tiger prints on the wall are a fine touch, echoing the theme that Artie's life is a zoo.

In the lobby, before the play begins, we are ``treated'' to a few of Artie's songs, which are neither as cheesy as Bill Murray's Lounge Lizard, nor as offensive as Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton. They are merely mediocre, and Artie, like Salieri in Amadeus could claim ``I'm the patron saint of mediocrity.'' ``The House of Blue Leaves,'' fortunately, is anything but.

Michael Christenson is currently working on ``Space Plague,'' a play in which a mutant intergalactic virus threatens to make everyone on Earth look like Tom Cruise.

Box info:

Title: ``The House of Blue Leaves''

Author: John Guare

Cast: Patrick Moore, Anni Stokes, Alanna Malone and Ron DeLay. Directed by Cynthia Croot.

Where: Perseverance Theatre, March 10-April 2.

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