Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The House of Blue Leaves

John Guare just had a grand Broadway run with latest work, A Free Man of Color.  Now he's back on Broadway with one if his his first works, The House of Blue Leaves.   Despite the 40 years in-between the creation of the two, his style remains remarkably similar.  While Blue Leaves is substantially less grand and not quite the epic of an era that was Free Man, it still tells a wild and crazy tale in the characteristically Guare-like story-telling style.

Taking the helm in this 2nd Broadway revival are a divine Edie Falco (Bananas), a slightly bristling Jennifer Jason Leigh (Bunny), and an enthusiastic Ben Stiller (Artie).  Supporting this fine leading cast are the always sublime Allison Pill (Corinna), and uber-adorable Thomas Sadowski (Billy).  It's interesting to note that Mr. Stiller is not new to the production, having played the son, Ronnie, in the first Tony award winning (Best Play)  Broadway run in 1986.  Anecdotally, his mother, Anne Meara, played in the original 1971 off-Broadway run in also.

I didn't see that production in 1986 (staring John Mahoney, Stockard Channing, Swoosie Kurtz, Danny Aiello, Julie Hagerty and Ben Stiller - and later Christine Baranski and Patricia Clarkson), but it seems to me the current revival's cast is somewhat different.  I've asked a few people who have seen both and the two adjectives that are repeatedly used are related to temperature and energy.  According to my "experts" polled - the current cast has less warmth, less love, is more mechanical, detached, and, dare I say, "crazy".  In a way it makes sense to me.  Isn't that the general state of who we are in 2011 vs 1971?  The actors are simply reflecting our current norms and general state of sensational being.   The show, after all, is about a bat-shit-crazy family in Queens that starts out crazy and ends up 3 levels crazier.   It's part farce, part comedy, and part family drama.   Some may call it honesty, and some may call it drama, but the interactions between the characters (mostly between Stiller and Falco) can jump from moderately funny to mildly offensive and mean-spirited in a heartbeat.  I found the audience unable to discern between the two and prone to laugh at some of the most inappropriate points in the dialogue unfolding on stage.

Overall the show is a powerhouse - - of both drama and comedy.  It was written mainstream pre-terrorism, but rings as true today in that sense as it did the say it debuted.   While it's not my general cup of tea, I did enjoy the significant performances - - and it frankly left me wishing I could have compared all the performance casts.  But alas, live theatre is just that - live.  You can't press rewind.  That's something Artie probably wishes he could do too.