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 Christopher M. Struck 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
As part of an active U.S. Army Garrison, the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater is a mixed-use facility, hosting live concerts, community performance, and town meetings. Currently, the theater is the permanent home for the Narrows Community Theater, who uses the facility in exchange for offering acting workshops to military families. The Narrows Community Theater has produced at least two shows a year since 1971 and showcases both a regular season as well as youth productions for their students. NCT offers opportunities to learn stagecraft, musical theater performance, acting technique, dance, teamwork, and the "business of show business." The seating at the theater is comfortable, and although it is far below the stage, most of the play is performed toward the edge of the stage due partially to the fact that each character addresses the audience.
The House Of Blue Leaves premiered Off-Broadway in 1971 and was set in 1965 when Pope Paul VI visited New York City. The play won the Drama Critics' Circle and Obie Awards for Best American Play in 1971. Subsequently, it was revived on Broadway in 1986 and again in 2011. The 1986 Broadway revival won multiple Tony Awards. Set in Sunnyside, Queens, the play focuses on Artie Shaughnessy (played by Gregory Mueller), a zookeeper who dreams of making it big in Hollywood as a songwriter. This dark comedy focuses particularly on Artie's deteriorated relationship with his wife and son alongside his new relationship with Bunny Flingus (Adella Rae). Critical reception has been mixed but generally positive for the various comedic elements. The contrasting critical opinions over Artie's "shallow value systems may have helped to propel the play to further success. However, the play was also successful in 2011 despite my opinion that the idea that a zookeeper might want to be a songwriter isn't that far fetched. It feels like younger generations are always searching for meaningful work until they find that they're already caught up in something else. In the end, this social commentary on the quest for fame is highlighted as a chief aspect of the play, but the play can be enjoyed without searching for any deeper meaning.
The play follows Artie Shaughnessy over the course of a few days surrounding the Pope's visit to New York City on October 4, 1965. In the first act, after failing to win over the crowd at an amateur night at the El Dorado Bar & Grill, we find Artie asleep in a sleeping bag on the couch. First, his seventeen-year-old son Ronnie breaks into the apartment and then Bunny Flingus arrives in a whirlwind of support, demands, and anger. While she wakes up Artie to go see the Pope, Bananas (Christa Comito) appears. Bananas is Artie's mentally unstable wife and while she showcases that instability, Artie forces pills down her throat and works to keep her out of the kitchen where Bunny is hiding. Bananas discovers Bunny sparking a confrontation between them that ends when Artie tells Bananas he is tired of taking care of her and is planning to place her in a mental institution. Artie then places a call to Billy Einhorn (Nicholas Hudson) to tell him of his plan to move to California. Artie had been promising Bunny that Billy would help him make it to the top. Bananas, Bunny, and Artie then go down to the street to get a glimpse of the Pope during which time Ronnie comes out of his room with a box of dynamite.
The first act of the play was completed for a staged reading in 1966, but it took a few years before John Guare was able to complete the second act - and it shows. The second act is a lot more farcical and includes the majority of the characters of the play starting with Ronnie discussing his eagerness to have been cast as Huckleberry Finn. The second act seemed a lot more like a string of one-off moments as the characters either stumbled over or betrayed each other in some way. For example, Ronnie kills Billy Einhorn's bride to be, Corinna Stroller. Einhorn then arrives to identify Corinna's body and runs off with Bunny to Australia.
The first act was funnier, but that may have also been in part to the delivery of the three main actors who were the only ones on stage and the best in the play. The performances of Adella Rae (Bunny) and Christa Comito (Bananas) demonstrated their skill and talent. Gregory Mueller's (Artie) performance stood out alongside these two. Although musically inclined, there aren't any songs that last longer a few lines. In addition, the songs presented were intentionally second rate and Artie, the character, made certain to sing those songs off-tune so no one would want to listen to him. Nevertheless, the play itself was light-hearted, comical, and amusing, but it in no way left the audience "roaring in laughter" as some critics wrote of the original production and revivals.
Ultimately, this was a quality production of The House Of Blue Leaves. It may have had a little more potential if delivered with an exorbitant budget on Broadway but for $20.00 at Fort Hamilton, it is a lot of fun and a great deal. The performance of the lead actresses will impress you and, if you like, you can contemplate the trivialities of sacrificing your sanity, family, health, or all three on the quest for fame and fortune. Online tickets can be purchased for $20.00 at http://narrowscommunitytheater.com. The play runs through April 2nd.
Read up on more plays currently being performed in Manhattan at http://drtomstevens.blogspot.com/