Leaves Audience with a Taste of the Insane
Play Draws Audience in With Acting and Script
by Lauren Campbell
weeks production of John Guares award-winning play The
House of Blue Leaves, directed by senior Joya Colon-Berezin, invited
the audience to cry, to laugh and sometimes to fidget uncomfortably.
action takes place during two frigid days in New York City, 1965.
Artie Shaughnessy (senior Mike Lebovitz) is a zoo-keeper with a
burning ambition to be a famous songwriter. His dinky, unoriginal
melodies seem to impress his girlfriend, Bunny Flingus (sophomore
Jill Briana Donnelly), who constantly works on him to contact his
moviemaker friend Billy Einhorn (sophomore Aaron Helgeson) so they
can elope to California. Artie is held back by his aptly named wife,
Bananas (sophomore Hallie Gnatovich), whose severe mental illness
requires his reluctantly given care until he can bring himself to
put her in an asylum. He describes the hospital as surrounded by
trees with blue leaves (actually birds) in order to make it seem
palatable, if not intriguing. In the first act, Bunny convinces
Artie to call Billy, and then to go out in the cold to see the Pope,
who is visiting New York, in order to get his music blessed.
second act destroys any hope of escape for Artie as his son Ronnie
(sophomore Jonah Mitropoulos), AWOL from the army, accidentally
blows up Billys girlfriend, deaf movie star Corrinna Stroller
(sophomore Amy Flanagan) along with two nuns, instead of his intended
victim, the Pope. Billy takes Bunny away, leaving Artie alone to
face the tattered shreds of his marriage.
production is charming, if inconsistently effective. A simple apartment
set makes excellent use of the small space, with ill-executed sunlight
effects the only technical weakness. As the fourth wall is repeatedly
broken, making the audience alternatively laugh derisively at and
sympathize with the characters. When Bunny mourns that she scored
a mere 12 on a Readers Digest quiz of sexual prowess, we guffaw
and feel relieved that we are not so pathetic. But when Artie says
with wonder to Bananas, Sometimes I miss you so much,
their lost happiness compels us to take them seriously. Colon-Berezin
says this tension is central to the meaning; Were supposed
to walk away saying, I cant believe I laughed at that,
and wondering about what is tragedy, and whats comedy.
wonderful ambivalence, as well as the stamina and dramatic skill
of the players, sustains our attention throughout the long first
act. The cast, guided skillfully by Colon-Berezin, pulls off several
succeeds beautifully in conveying Arties alternating feelings
of derision, sadness and rage towards Bananas, while he renders
Arties inconsistent self-confidence believable and endearing.
Donnelly gives the most outstanding performance of the show as the
cartoonish Bunny. Delivering her lines in a seamless New York accent
that manages to be both shrill and beautiful, Donnelly creates an
unforgettable caricature of someone weve all met before. Bunny
has worked in an apparently infinite number of occupations from
telephone operator to theatrical furniture store clerk, all of which
have taught her worldliness and sophistication. She knows who she
is, and we can tell Donnelly does too, as she unites her perfect
physicalization with a clear and energetic interpretation.
the presumably schizophrenic wife Bananas, Gnatovich gives an occasionally
brilliant, but too often stagnant performance. Most wonderful when
she is devious, as when she throws Bunnys coat out the door,
or blows Bunnys cover by wickedly describing a dream in which
Artie had a mistress, Gnatovich seems to get stuck in an introspective,
zombie-like characterization which relies too heavily on clutching
hands and an empty stare. Despite this, however, Gnatovich captures
the pathos of the despised and wounded Bananas, whose shadows of
intelligence and spirit haunt the audience.
Much of the strong work of the first act is sadly muddled by the
second. In a chaotic milieu, three bizarre nuns fight with Ronnie
for tickets to the Popes mass in a farcical chase scene performed
in slow motion, under a strobe light. When Billy comes to grieve
over the dead movie star (his girlfriend), his racking sobs give
way to a cavalier invitation to Bunny to travel the world with him,
stopping by L.A. to drop off Corrinnas body. We
are left wondering where all the psychological and literary meat
of the first act has gone.
Even our faith in the unshakable Bunny is destroyed as she merrily
abandons Artie. There is potential power in the escalation of all
the problems of the first act into chaos and violence in the second,
but the production failed to harness it. Consequently, the dialectic
between hilarity and tragedy that makes the play so rich, in the
end threatens to capsize its meaning.
is rescued by Lebovitz when, left alone with Bananas, he conveys
heartbreak and desperation simply and directly, first kissing her
passionately, then strangling her. In a wrenching culmination of
Arties unfulfilled desire and rage, that marks the final defeat
of Bananas love, the play ends powerfully. Despite the collapse
of the second half, the marriage of a strong script, often stellar
acting and nuanced direction creates a poignant experience.
House of Blue Leaves invites the viewers to reflect on their place
in the spectrum of pain and absurdity.