John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves is a very strange comedy. It’s quirky and way beyond. The actors often address the audience directly. You could make a case for all the characters being unstable, in one way or another. It’s a frothy cartoon, that keeps reminding us that it’s not a cartoon. It’s an enormous elephant, and each character a blind man, describing the part they can touch. In some ways, they hold a mirror up to one another, and to us. Film director Billy stays with Corrinna because she’s hearing disabled, just as the hero, Artie Shaughnessy, stays with “Bananas” because he can’t abandon his crazy wife. Blue Leaves is genuinely funny, but it persistently shows us the sad undercurrent beneath the joke. A nun is thrilled to find a jar of peanut butter. How bad must the convent be, if they can’t even have peanut butter? Glamorous celebrity Corrinna Stroller makes inappropriate responses, because she can’t understand the fans that are fawning all over her.
Blue Leaves opens on a day when the Pope is visiting New York. Bunny Flingus raps on the door of her boyfriend, Artie Shaughnessy in the early hours. Artie is a songwriter who longs to hit the big time. Before the show itself actually starts, he plays some songs for (us) the audience. He sleeps on the couch, presumably because sharing a bed with insane wife, “Bananas” is just too much to deal with. Among other things, she likes to crawl around on all fours like a dog, panting and whimpering. Bunny, who is ditzy and vapid, delivers some poetic speeches about the pope flying among the planets on his trip to America, and how mortals are but the dreams of grand entities like directors and movie stars. In one of the play’s funniest bits, she explains she’ll have sex with Artie whenever he wants, but she won’t cook. She’s a “lousy lay”, and her culinary savvy is the only leverage she possesses to get him to the altar.
Apart from the symbiotic relationship between pain and humor, there’s a salient theme of the magic wielded by celebrities. Famous persons have the power to bestow success, and validate the lives of those who struggle with failure and disappointment. Celebrities hold the key to their cages.
Director Mike Hathaway (working with a diligent, dedicated cast) has navigated this difficult, hazardous material with intelligence and verve. On the surface it feels like three-ring-chaos, but there’s so much insight and pathos teeming below, it haunts you long after the profoundly disturbing finish.
Onstage in Bedford presents The House of Blue Leaves, playing August 14th-30th, 2015. 2819 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford, Texas 76021. (817) 354-6444. firstname.lastname@example.org