How bizarre is it that Pope Paul VI is featured in two Broadway shows this season? His Eminence seems to have blessed “Sister Act” and ignored the revival of John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves” that is plodding along at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
It would be easy to dismiss this unsatisfying schizophrenic production but “The House of Blue Leaves” has a great history and pedigree – especially the 1986 Lincoln Center production that I did not see. So I come to it fresh.
It’s a strange play dealing with a group of very strange people who live in Sunnyside Queens which is anything but – circa 1965. They are all yearning to be famous or to be near someone famous – to share their celebrity as if talent would be something that would rub off on them. They need to be admired and to be loved and are all pretty much delusional.
It’s funny. It’s tragic. It’s been misdirected by David Cromer who immediately alienates the audience by having Mr. Ben Stiller at the piano with his back to the audience in the opening segment.
Arte Shaughnessy (Ben Stiller) is a frustrated songwriter and performer with little talent – a zoo keeper by trade who fulfills pretty much the same duties at home. He is married to Bananas (Edie Falco) who acts that way and makes it necessary for him to force feed her her medications. Arte is ready to have her carted off to the loony bin as he is having an affair with Bunny (Jennifer Jason Leigh) his downstairs neighbor who rattles on and on about going off to Hollywood together to be with his good friend Billy (Thomas Sadoski) who is a big time film director. Billy’s deaf girlfriend Corrinna (Alison Pill) shows up as do three nuns to see the visiting Pope. His AWOL son Ronnie (Christopher Abbott) secretly returns home to make a bomb to blow up said Pope.
The ultra realistic set by Scott Pask fights against the unrealistic nature of the play with its direct monologues spoken to the audience and insane goings on. The lights (Brian MacDevitt) seem to have a mind of their own dimming at odd moments for reasons you’d have to ask the director about.
The only thing I can say about Ben Stiller is that he plays the piano well and shuffles around the stage like a toddler beginning to walk. Didn’t believe him for a minute when he declares how sometimes he misses Bananas so much and that he is too old to be a young talent which is much repeated. FYI he played the son in the LCT ’86 production.
Edie Falco is unrecognizable and brings much sympathy to her role. The rest of the cast is serviceable with the exception of Halley Feiffer as Little Nun who brought immediate life to her character balancing both sides of the tragic/comedy scale.
I may be in the minority as they all got the requisite standing ovation which happens when producers cast stars in mediocre productions.
www.houseofblueleaves.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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