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Saturday, 14 May 2011 15:22

Broadway Review: THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES

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Ben Stiller and Edie Falco in The House of Blue Leaves Ben Stiller and Edie Falco in The House of Blue Leaves Photo: Joan Marcus

John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves is a dark play, both sad and funny.  The play is set in Sunnyside, Queens the day in 1965 that Pope Paul VI has come to New York.  

Artie, played by Ben Stiller, is a zoo-keeper by day and would-be song-writer by night.  He is watching his youth fleeting and his window of opportunity closing.  His songs are trite and his lyrics simplistic.  His wife, Bananas Shaughnessy (sounds like a flaming Irish dessert), is mentally ill.   

Edie Falco gives an understated, funny and poignant portrayal of Bananas. (earning herself a 2011 Tony Award nomination.) Jennifer Jason Leigh, is the obnoxious Bunny Flingus, the woman Artie is going to run away with. Ms. Leigh seemed to be pushing and her character became more of a caricature with a performance that felt super-sized.

Bunny believes once the Pope blesses Artie's music they will go live in Hollywood and he’ll become a success. Artie is planning on putting Bananas into an institution to free himself up. It's funny, at times, Bananas seems like the sane character in this play. The title of the play refers to the tree with blue leaves (they are really blue birds covering the branches) in front of the hospital... I mean a resting place.

Stiller plays Artie with a kinetic hyperactive mania. Under all the excitement about leaving for California is an appreciably confused man. He doesn’t seem happy with either option A (Bananas) or option B (Bunny) and he’s constantly worried “I'm too old to be a young talent.” Director David Cromer has Bunny and Artie at such a level of mania that Bananas frequently seems like the sane one.

Alison Pill, last seen in The Miracle Worker, is terrific as Corrinna Stroller, the girlfriend of long-time friend Billy, now a successful Hollywood director. Corrinna has no idea what anyone is saying (she is deaf but doesn’t like to wear her hearing aids). She responds to conversation in complete nonsequiturs.

Christopher Abbott is Artie and Bananas’ former alter-boy son, Ronnie. He’s just as crazy as his parents. He is intent on blowing up the Pope with a home-made bomb. Abbott’s performance as Ronnie feels flat and untextured.

Add to this nutty mix three nuns that have descended the fire escape. Mary Beth Hurt leads the superfluity of raucous nuns who seem to have lost any sense of decorum. They were trying to watch the Pope from the roof and got locked out in the freezing cold.

Scott Pask has designed a dingy small apartment that adds to Artie’s feeling of entrapment. Overhead is a roof-line with a large gauze sky which is lit to beautiful effect by Brian McDevitt. Broadway’s doyenne of theatrical couture, Jane Greenwood, is in top form here with some lovely 1960s dresses on the women.

The House of Blue Leaves was first produced off-Broadway at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre in 1971. The production starred Anne Meara. The play had a successful revival at Lincoln Center Theatre in 1986. That production was directed by Jerry Zaks and had a young Ben Stiller (Anne Meara’s son) in the role of the son, Ronnie Shaughnessy.

Ms. Falco’s performance is a treat. This production is worth seeing for her performance alone. The fact that Stiller is a solid Artie to her Bananas makes this engaging play one to add to your “must-see” list. You only have until July 23rd to see this outstanding production.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: The Walter Kerr Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 219 West 48th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: April 4, 2011
  • Opening Night: April 25, 2011
  • Closing: July 23, 2011
Last modified on Saturday, 14 May 2011 15:51

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