Monday, September 15, 2008

Review - The House of Blue Leaves

House of Blue Leaves
by John Guare
directed by Nicholas Martin
Mark Taper Forum
through October 19

When John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves was first produced in 1971, we were still entangled in the Viet Nam crisis, and thanks, but no thanks, to Lyndon B. Johnson, every young man at the age of draft eligibility, like myself, sweated through the lottery, faced with the strong possibility of having to fight in what appeared to be a futile, never-ending war. So when Artie Shaughnessy's son Ronnie goes AWOL in the play, a true sympathizer will relate to his, downright disgust with the establishment. Burdened with a crazy bed-ridden wife - appropriately named Bananas - to look after, a selfish girlfriend Bunny, and with next to no remaining hope for that songwriting career-break, a dream that has helped him survive for many years, is it any wonder that Artie flips out and commits a violent act of passion? Isn't it totally conceivable that anyone could and might have done the same, given all the devastating circumstances that developed within a mere 24-hours? Even a devout Catholic just blessed by the Pope reaches a breaking point. Albeit seeming nightmarishly surreal, Guare's world is no cartoon or fantasy as it crumbles into painfully real pieces.
In the batting of an eyelash suffering becomes joy, at least for some, and John Pankow (Artie), Jane Kaczmarek (Bunny) and Kate Burton (Bananas) are nothing short of miraculous throughout their ups and downs. As over-the-top as these characters are played, especially Bunny and Bananas, Kaczmarek and Burton still remain grounded and pitiable. Artie is despiccable at times, but as played by Pankow, we root for his freedom. Making us laugh and shudder at failure and misfortune, they and the supporting cast: James Immekus as Ronnie, Mia Barron as Corrinna (a vulnerably sad yet amusing target), Diedrich Bader as Billy Einhorn (you should hate him, but you just can't!) and Rusty Schwimmer, Mary Kay Wulf and Angela Goethals as the silly nuns, all shine under director Nicholas Martin's satirical yet naturalistic expertise.
This is the quintessential production of John Guare's wonderfully screwball and operatic play.
5 out of 5 stars

The theatre has two faces. As the Taper enters Act II with its bright new changes of expansion, its audiences, unlike Artie Shaughnessy, have much to look forward to.


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