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Beck’s HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES asks whether the whole world is crazy

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

“A man’s home is his castle, unless it’s a zoo” is the banner used to describe author John Guare’s THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, which is now confounding audiences at Beck Center for the Arts.

The multi-award winning Guare, who not only authored BLUE LEAVES, but

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, which is now being staged at Karamu Theatre, is noted for his highly theatrical scripts.  As an absurdist, he probes into individual psyches by asking the existentialist question, “What is the purpose of life?”

No play better exposes Guare’s absurdist ideas than BLUE LEAVES, in which almost every cast member displays chaotic tendencies, and his anti-war sentiments are obvious.  Inn this script Guare is out to explore the darker side of the American Dream including its obsession with celebrity.

The play is set in Artie and Banana Shaughnessy’s Queens apartment on the 1965 day when Pope Paul VI visited New York.  There’s a wife and mother (Bananas) whose world is one of psychotic episodes; a husband and zoo keeper (Artie) who perceives that his misconceived songs are works of art; Artie’s mistress (Bunny), who uses her cooking skills and so-called job history to get her attention; a son (Ronnie) who is AWOL and on a mission to gain world recognition by blowing up the Pope; some nuns who want their heavenly reward; and, a shocking ending.  Guare seems out to prove that the world and its inhabitants are crazily obsessed.

Of course, as is the pattern of black comedy, bizarre overshadows logic.  Audience confusion runs rampant in trying to figure out what outlandish action will follow whatever incident is now being carried out.

The title?  Artie describes going to visit the asylum to which Bananas is going to be admitted and seeing a tree with what appeared to be blue leaves.  Leaves, which were an illusion, like his life, as they turned out to be bluebirds which flew away when he approached.

The play had a very healthy off-Broadway run in 1971, was revived in 1986 and had another long run.  That production starred the likes of Swoosie Kurtz, Stockard Channing, Danny Aiello and Ben Stiller.  Another Broadway revival in 2011 starred Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The Beck production, under the direction of Russ Borski, does credit to Guare’s script.  Juliette Regnier is fascinating as the schizoid Bananas.  She swings from mood to mood flawlessly.  Robert Ellis is quite good as her husband Artie, who is caught between his fantasies of being a famous song writer, though he has no talent for that task, while being frustrated but well equipped to be a zoo’s animal caretaker.  Carla Petroski does a good job of being totally “New Yawk” in accent and attitude.  Nicholas Chokan brings a crazy presence as Ronnie, the obsessed son.  The rest of the cast create their roles well.


Borski’s busy realistic set works nicely to add to the chaos.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES is an absurdist black comedy that asks, “Is this the way to live?,” while exposing the craziness individuals possess that drives them to adulate and desire to be celebrities and hero worshippers.  Though the production is good, this is not a play for theatre-goers wanting realistic people in realistic situations.

THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES is scheduled to run through  April 21 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or