Tuesday, April 26, 2011

theatre review- THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES -Broadway April 25

John Guare's play, The House of Blue Leaves, is a black comedy set in 1965 Queens  and filled with dreamers caught up in the celebrity centered world on a day the Pope visits New York City.  Starring Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh  the show opened on Broadway last night and we were there.  Stiller actually played a different part in the 1986 revival of the play, which I also had the pleasure of seeing.

Edie Falco
Stiller is Artie, a zookeeper who writes songs.  And not very good ones at that.  His wife Bananas is just that, and Artie is arranging for her to be moved to an asylum so he can run off to make it big in California with his girlfriend.  Falco as Bananas gives yet another nuanced performance that perfectly captures the pain and suffering that one assumes a schizophrenic must experience, especially one who is completely aware of her husband's plans.  She has the less showy role, especially when compared to the high pitched frenetic delivery that Jennifer Jason Leigh brings to Bunny, Artie's girlfriend.  But Falco knows how to play the quiet, distraught anguish perfectly.   With long blond hair, and wearing a nightgown and little makeup for most of the play, Falco's appearance is virtually unlike any of her more famous tv roles, but she uses that simplicity to ground her character and even when she is in one room quietly eavesdropping on the action in another room we are drawn to her and always aware of her presence.

Stiller gives a polished performance.  Even though the one sentence plot description might make it seem that his character is a jerk to his wife and he has obviously suffered a lot in dealing with her illness but he still has several moments when the love he once had for her clearly shines through.  Stiller plays these scenes expertly.  Leigh adds the majority of the humor to the play, and her delivery of the material is perfect.  She easily captures the woman who believes her man can do anything that she says he can, especially if she pushes and prods him to make it happen. 

Guare's play is also a study on the celebrity focused world we live in, which is even more intense today then it was when the play first premiered in the mid 1960's.  Bunny is so obsessed with celebrities that we don't truly realize until late in the play to exactly what extent her fascination is.  But Bunny isn't the only one obsessed.  Artie and Bananas' son Ronnie (the part Stiller played in the 1986 revival) and even the nuns who show up in act two, are just as celebrity focused, though for very different reasons.  Even the nuns, with cameras in tow want their pictures taken with Jackie Kennedy, even if she is just on the tv they are standing next to.  I actually find it quite interesting that this play opened this week, only days before what will most likely be the most heavily celebrity focused event of the early 21 st century, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. 

Together Stiller and Leigh play the part of dreamers, pushing to be find a way into the celebrity world but caught up in the realities of the world they live in, a world that they quickly realize is one that had too many boundaries for escape.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Stiller
Guare's play is one that is a little bit of everything, a farce, a melodrama, and a serious drama, and director David Cromer hasn't seemed to quite find the right balance to expertly keep the play in sync to reach it's goal.  He focuses more on the dark elements but in doing so the drama somewhat outweighs the humor to the point that the humor seems like it doesn't always belong.  When in order to make it have more of an impact the humor needs to take the lead so the emotional pieces, especially the ending, resonate more.  Spolier alert: Cromer's staging of the ending of the play was also a little confusing- the left part of the apartment set starts to slowly separate from the rest of the living room, leaving Artie and Bananas seemingly stranded in the room as if they were the only ones left on a desert island.  At least that's the point I thought Cromer was trying to get across.  But we were upstairs on the left side, so the separation was fairly obvious, not sure if people downstairs on the right side would even notice the separation, so I'm very unclear as to exactly what point Cromer was trying to make.  If both sides of the set separated from the middle where Bananas and Artie were then that would make perfect sense, but that isn't the way it was staged.
Stiller, Falco and Leigh
I did enjoy this revival, and it was nice to see Falco, Stiller and Leigh on stage.  Also Alison Pill was very funny in her one scene where she is a deaf starlet always giving the wrong answer to a question, but since she's from Hollywood, none of our celebrity focused characters seem to mind.  I knew Falco would excel in her part but I was also surprised by Leigh, she so expertly nailed the role of a person who wants something so bad that she will almost go to any means to get it.  Interestingly enough, Stiller's mother Anne Meara played that part in the 1971 Off Broadway run of the show.

And, concerning it being Opening Night- we did get an up close personal view of Melissa Etheridge and I personally thought she looks amazing.  Also saw Alan Alda outside the theatre- though we missed seeing Liza, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, oh well!

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