In today’s online Wall Street Journal I review an important Florida revival of John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves. Here’s an excerpt.
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Even though he ranks among America’s foremost living playwrights, John Guare’s work isn’t done nearly often enough in New York. This season’s Broadway revival of “Six Degrees of Separation” will be that play’s first major New York staging since the original production closed in 1992. That struck me as reason enough to catch the Florida Repertory Theatre’s revival of ”The House of Blue Leaves,” an identically important play which received a big-ticket Broadway revival in 2011 (David Cromer was the director, Ben Stiller and Edie Falco the stars) that inexplicably failed to ring the box-office bell. That version was outstanding in every way—but so is this one, directed with unshowy, profoundly comprehending skill by Chris Clavelli….
“The House of Blue Leaves,” first performed in 1971, is a fearsomely and famously tricky play to bring off, for it illustrates Mr. Guare’s pithy dictum that “farce is tragedy speeded up.” It’s the story of Artie (Greg Longenhagen), an inept blue-collar songwriter from Queens whose wife, Bananas (Rachel Burttram), is clinically depressed beyond hope of cure. He’s fallen in love with Bunny (Carrie Lund), his downstairs neighbor, a brassy golddigger who believes, God knows why, in the commercial potential of Artie’s songs (one of which rhymes “comical” with “yarmulke”) and wants him to send Bananas to an insane asylum, go to Hollywood and make his fortune—meaning her fortune.
As is his wont, Mr. Guare plays this dire situation for belly laughs, mixing in such unlikely supporting characters as a trio of ditsy nuns (Viki Boyle, Michelle Damato and Jason Parrish). But you are never allowed to lose sight for long of the dark desperation of Artie and Bananas, and when things go definitively sour, first with a bang and then a whimper, the laughter gives way to gasps—and tears….
The best American regional theater is as good as it gets, Broadway not excluded. But if I had to pick one show from the past few seasons to epitomize its excellence, it might well be Florida Rep’s “House of Blue Leaves.” It’s one of the finest stagings of a John Guare play that I’ve ever seen, anywhere.
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for Florida Rep’s revival of of The House of Blue Leaves:
Excerpts from David Cromer’s 2011 Broadway production of The House of Blue Leaves, starring Ben Stiller as Artie, Edie Falco as Bananas, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Bunny: