Friday, June 17, 2011
The House of Blue Leaves
Ben Stiller and Edie Falco are starring in a revival of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, and Falco was nominated for a Tony for her role as Bananas Shaughnessy, a woman suffering from some sort of unnamed mental illness.
Falco gives her usual remarkable performance, sliding in and out of reality while her husband Artie (a terrific Stiller) plans to run away to California with his downstairs neighbor/girlfriend Bunny, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She has many good comic moments, something I have not seen Leigh perform much.
Artie fashions himself a songwriter, and he hopes to look up his high school pal and successful Hollywood director Billy Einhorn, and get him to help make connections in California.
All this is happening on the day when the Pope is visiting Queens in October of 1965, and his car will be passing right by Artie's apartment building. Bunny wants the Pope to bless Artie's songs, and three nuns show up, climbing through Artie's window, hoping to see the Pope's parade. They are more like the Three Stooges than nuns, but when the Head Nun is played by Mary Beth Hurt, who can complain.
Artie and Bananas' son Ronnie, played by the wonderful Christopher Abbott, has snuck into the apartment. He is AWOL from the army, and in a brilliant monologue in Act Two, Abbott steals the thunder from his more seasoned co-stars. He breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience, and getting a response from them. His performance is nothing short of stunning, and I look forward to seeing him on Broadway in another role soon.
The show is part drama, part comedy, and has many poignant moments. Stiller makes the audience feel Artie's pain; he may be deluded about his talent, but he just yearns to have a better life, as do most people.
I appreciated how Falco played Bananas with a bit of mean streak in her; when she was coherent, she got in some digs at Artie and Bunny. When she was out of it, she was almost child-like. It's a complex, layered performance.
I have to say that the end of the play was shocking, and many in the audience audibly gasped. It was something I did not see coming. I would recommend this show, (especially if you can get a discount ticket) mostly for the acting by Stiller, Falco, Leigh and newcomer Abbott.