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The House of Blue Leaves

That critics have been divided on this play is a reflection of the hybrid nature of the script, part comedy, part farce, part tragedy. As such, it often feels as if the characters on stage are commingling from two or three different plays. This makes for some great situations, but, given the final scene, the mix of comedic and tragic dynamics poses nearly unsurmountable directorial challenges in finding a cohesive through-line.

Leroy Leonard as Billy Einhorn and Missy Moore as Bananas Shaughnessy
Leroy Leonard as Billy Einhorn
and Missy Moore as Bananas Shaughnessy
In the history of the stage, it the white clown (a variant of the stock character Pierrot from Commedia dell'Arte) that stands preeminent in possesing the capacity to incorporate tragedy into a diverse set of comedic elements. In The House of Blue Leaves, it is Bananas Shaughnessy (Missy Moore)—the mentally disturbed wife of Artie Shaughnessy (Tom Auclair), a Bronx zookeeper who aspires to be a Hollywood songwriter—who fits the bill. Behind her white dress and pale visage and despite Bananas tenuous relationship with reality, Moore show us that at Bananas' core lies the heart of a clown, with the capacity, like the classic fool, to present a mirror that mocks those who would presume to wield power over her.

The details of Moore's portrayal are heart-wrenching in their uncanny representation of psychosis. However, Moore is underutilized as the white clown, who—given the fourth wall-breaking monologues by Artie, Bunny Fligus (Kelly Uhlenhopp), and others—needs to serve as the silent narrator of this tale for the highly sophisticated catharthis that the playwright, John Guare, has so tantalizingly designed. Director Scott Bellot comes close to achieving this, with the final spotlight and some fleeting, haunting appearances, but not enough for a through line that defines the action.

Kelly Uhlenhopp as Bunny Flignus and Tom Auclair as Artie Shaughnessy
Kelly Uhlenhopp as Bunny Flignus
and Tom Auclair
as Artie Shaughnessy
The tragic figure within the white clown's dark comedy is Artie, with Auclair providing such a wealth of desperation, we have no choice but to sympathize with him, despite his tragic lust for fame. The fame that Artie seeks proves as elusive to him as Bunny, who refuses to prepare her gourmet dishes "until they are married," since she has already given him everything else. Uhlenhopp is a constant stream of laughs, putting us on with a gusto matched only by her bold, well-tailored dresses, designed by Caroline Smith.

The playwright provides a robust series of farcical opportunities, revolving around an actual event (Pope Paul VI's visit to New York City on October 4, 1965) and various fictional events—including a visit from Artie's AWOL son, Ronnie (Zachary A. Page), Artie's famous boyhood friend, Billy Einhorn (Leroy Leonard), now a famous Hollywood filmmaker, and Billy's main squeeze, Corrinna Stroller (Samara Bridwell), a screen star, as well as three zanny nuns (Betsy Grisard, Natalie Ptron, and Rachel Graham), a military policeman (Stefin Woolever), and a psychiatric posse (Peter Marullo)—though the results are uneven.

The Edge Theater Company'sThe House of Blue Leaves runs through August 11th. For tickets: (303) 232-0363 or http://www.theeproject.org.

Bob Bows

 

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