The House of Blue Leaves
Written by John Guare
Directed by Adam Schwartz
At the Leverett House Old Library Through this weekend
THE line between lunacy and sanity is often equivalent to the line between fantasy and reality. And, as the characters in The House of Blue Leaves reveal, it is a line that is easily crossed.
The Shaughnessys are not a normal family. Artie Shaughnessy (Joshua Preven) is a mild-mannered zookeeper by day and a would-be composer by night. His wife Bananas (Beth Turner) is just that--bananas. They have a son. Ronnie (Peter Pappas), a resentful youth who harbors homicidal tendencies. As if his family wasn't outlandish enough, Artie also has a girlfriend, six-foot tall Bunny Lingus (Susan Trachta).
Bunny is convinced that she can make Artie famous. Her hopes center on the 'legendary Billy Einhorn (Andrew Diedterich), Artie's boyhood friend turned Hollywood director. Despite his protests that "I'm too old to be a young talent," Artie is willing to let Bunny create a fantasy world in which they abandon Bananas and Queens for California.
House takes place on October 4. 1965, the day that the Pope visits New York. His mission is to urge the UN to end the fighting in Vietnam. but each of the characters wants him to do something else. Bunny wants him to bless her union with Artie--and Artie's songs. Artie hopes the Pope will cure Bananas, so that he can leave her for Hollywood. He also takes advantage of the occasion to write one of his better lyrics: "The day that the Pope came to New York/It really was comical/The Pope wore a yarmulke." Ronnie, tired of being told he is a failure, goes AWOL from Fort Dix and plans to blow up the Pope.
Turner is outstandingly insane as Bananas. Maintaining her last grip on reality, she stumbles about the set trying to sabotage Bunny's plans. Bunny, played to comically cartoonish proportions by Trachta, is so caught up in the world of movies that she hardly notices the world of reality. The juxtaposition of these two fine performances is absurdly wonderful, as when Bunny indignantly interrupts Bananas' comparison of electric shock therapy to a concentration camp oven to describe "Doris Day's Night of Terror," when the starlet couldn't find her curlers anywhere.
Everything in House seems to be a perversion. Bunny says she is a lousy lay but a great cook, so she sleeps with Artie but won't even pour his cornflakes until after they're married. Preven gives an incredible performance, consistently portraying Artie's fluctuations from funny to pathetic to cruel, one minute crooning his tunes and the next taunting his wife. And as Act II opens, when you think the cast has already pulled out every emotion possible, Pappas delivers a riveting monologue, in which he reveals his assassination plot and defames the illustrious Billy.
When Billy finally does arrive, he manages to work all the wrong magic. Diedterich looks and acts the picture of '60s suavity, but his presence forces the Shaughnessys to come to terms with the fact that they are living in the real world, not in a motion picture. Billy can't solve their problems; he won't take them to Hollywood with him; he can't sprinkle stardust and make it all better.
House is a flawlessly comic tragedy. Director Adam Schwartz achieves a delicate balance between the absurd and horrific that keeps you laughing throughout the play but leaves you floored by its disturbing conclusion. By keeping the characters aware of the audience through asides, Schwartz draws you in, allowing you to share the intimacy of the scene.
If you see The House of Blue Leaves this weekend--and you definitely should--you probably won't leave the show ecstatically joyous. But you will leave amazed at what the cast and crew have achieved, a fine production of a complex play.