Thursday, March 30, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The House Of Blue Leaves
Written by John Guare
Directed by Dennis Gleason
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 3/26/17

The House Of Blue Leaves premiered Off-Broadway on February 10, 1971 at the Truck & Warehouse Theatre, where it ran for 337 performances. A revival that opened Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on March 19, 1986 transferred to Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 29, 1986 where it played for five months before transferring again to the Plymouth Theatre on October 14, 1986, closing on March 15, 1987 for a total run of 398 performances. This production won four Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play (Jerry Zaks), Best Featured Actor in a Play (John Mahoney), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Swoosie Kurtz), and Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton). A 2011 Broadway Revival began previews on April 4, 2011, opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 25, 2011. A limited sixteen-week engagement was anticipated but it closed early on June 25, 2011 after 21 previews and 72 performances. 


The play is set in Sunnyside, Queens in 1965, on the day Pope Paul VI visited New York City to perform a mass at Yankee Stadium. The night before, Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper who aspires to become a famous singer/songwriter in Hollywood, sang at Amateur Night before an inattentive audience at the El Dorado Bar & Grill. Bunny Flingus, his girlfriend and neighbor (who will sleep with him anytime but will not cook for him until they're married) continues to encourage him to call Billy Einhorn, his childhood buddy who is now a famous director in Hollywood, in the hope that if Billy hears Artie's music that he might become a big success. Besides Artie's lack of talent, another barrier to this plan is that Artie is already married to Bananas, a woman with severe mental problems who Artie hopes to have committed to a mental institution. Ronnie, Artie's son, has gone AWOL from Ft. Dix and, to gain some notoriety, plans to pose as an Altar Boy in order to kill the Pope. He tells the audience, "My Sergeant laughs at me and my father thinks I'm nothing." When as a child he performed for Billy Einhorn in the hope of getting cast as Huckleberry Finn, Billy responded to the performance by saying to Artie, "You never told me you had a mentally retarded child and that I had an idiot for a godchild." Ronnie, feeling humiliated, ran to his room. He has always felt ignored and disrespected. Ironically, when Ronnie tells his father of his plans to kill the Pope, Artie doesn't even pause to acknowledge what was just said to him. Ronnie is ultimately arrested for being AWOL but the bomb ends up killing Corinna Stroller (Billie's deaf girlfriend, successfully portrayed by Allison Greaker, who lost her hearing in a "very realistic" mine explosion on the set of her last movie) and two of the three nuns from a convent in Ridgewood (who climbed to the top of Artie's building to get a better look at the Pope). Ronnie, played by the very talented and charismatic Jacob Henry (on the night I saw the play), put in an impressive performance and had an extraordinarily moving monologue that opened the second act. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Adella Rae did a good job as the flighty, but determined, Bunny Flingus, the ambitious young woman who hopes Artie Shaughnessy will be her ticket to success and financial stability. Bunny has saved $1,000.00 working as an astronomer's assistant (she thinks Orion is "the Irish constellation"), in a law office, at a travel agency, in a furniture store, as an usher, and at ConEd. When her plans to go to California fall through, she betrays Artie by leaving for Australia with Billy (She thanks Artie for having been "a good neighbor" and sincerely tells him, "All my life I've been treated like an old shoe & you've turned me into a glass slipper."). Nicholas Hudson was very strong as Billy Einhorn and I particularly appreciated his little "kangaroo hand gesture." Artie betrayed his wife by cheating on her, by planning to divorce her, and by making arrangements to have her committed to a mental institution. Christa Comito stole the show as Bananas Shaughnessy, showing just the right balance between sanity and insanity (Her best line came when she dressed up for Billy and said, "It's a shame it's 1965. I'm like the best-dressed woman of 1954.") Objecting to being sent to a mental institution (that has a tree outside with bluebirds in it which Artie mistook for blue leaves), she argues for being allowed to stay at home even if her prescription medications have taken away her ability to feel. She says, "I don't need to feel as long as I'm in a place where I remember feeling." Billy betrayed Artie by having no interest in his music and telling him, "The most important talent in the world is to be an audience." Billy also stole his girlfriend and paid the remaining nun to move into Bunny's apartment to help Artie take care of Bananas. With a lot of money in hand, the nun decides to betray God and the Catholic Church by either taking her vows with her fingers crossed or else to leave entirely ("I wanted to be the Bride of Christ, but I guess now, I am a divorcee"). When Bananas first saw the three nuns sitting on their couch watching the television, she asked Artie, "Did you bring your work home from the office?" to which he responded, "Bananas, they're nuns, not penguins!" The hilarious nuns were played by Dawn Barry Hansen (Head Nun), Nancy Cucinotta (Second Nun), and Sherry Wallack (Little Nun). The most disagreeable character in the show, successfully portrayed by Gregory Mueller as a lower-class, bigoted, immoral "bull in a china shop," was Artie Shaughnessy, a character you will absolutely despise. The man was cruel to his Italian wife and couldn't even comfort his friend Billy, who was grieving over the loss of Corinna. All he wanted to do is to promote his own career at any cost. He even despised the Pope and criticized him and his "Dago friends" who were flying to the United States first class. He scoffed at the Pope's blessing of his sheet music, telling the audience, "You've heard these songs. They don't need blessings!" All I can say is that I hope his character literally and repeatedly gets his just reward in the end, which is entirely possible given where Artie's next residence is likely to be. 

The House Of Blue Leaves is an extremely funny play. In terms of making fun of crazy people, it is very politically incorrect. It also might be offensive to Christians since one of the nuns stole a pair of binoculars while another was willing to betray her vows after she came into money. The entire Shaughnessy family and Bunny are not very good Christians. Artie is cheating on his wife. Bunny is sleeping with a married man. Ronnie murders people and Bananas tries to maim Bunny to make her less attractive to her husband. Even Billy grieves for 5 minutes over the death of Corinna before taking up with another woman. The play is full of morally bankrupt characters seeking fame, fortune, and immediate gratification. If this doesn't deter you, I think you will enjoy this play and have a thoroughly entertaining evening. The show runs through April 2, 2017 at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater (bring ID). Tickets cost $20.00 for adults, $15.00 for seniors, and $15.00 for students under 21 years of age. You can make reservations at www.NCTheaterNY.com. For more information, call 718-482-3173.

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