House of Blue Leaves, Back on Broadway

Last night I went with friends to see the current Broadway revival of John Guare's farcical "The House of Blue Leaves" at the Walter Kerr Theatre.  Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh head a stellar cast in a knock-out production.

Unlike my friends, I was unfamiliar with this show.  As is sometimes my problem, I found my attention wandering during the expository first act, only to be totally riveted in the second act.  Perhaps I just have limited interest in prolonged exposition to set up the characters.  But once they are established, as the fantastical story unfolds I find myself captured, amused, astonished, sometimes perplexed, but ultimately gratified. 

The story revolves around the historic visit by Pope Paul VI to New York City in 1965, and its impact on one severely dysfunctional family in Queens, NY.  I don't want to include any plot spoilers, for those who are unfamiliar with the show, but I can't resist saying that for me the most interesting character, who is seen mainly in the second act, is the crazy son portrayed by Christopher Abbott, whose delusions are the fulcrum for much of the second act.  I was also quite taken with Thomas Sadoski, who portrays lead-man Stiller's childhood chum who has transcended his modest origins to become a film industry big-shot, and Alison Pill as this big-shot's fiance.  Maybe this explains why I liked the second act better than the first – the arrival of Abbott, Sadoski and Pill on the scene really pepped things up with action after the rather talky first act.

Not that I don't have the highest regard for Stiller, Falco and Leigh, around whom the first act revolves.  I just think that Mr. Guare has given them less interesting stuff to do in the first act.  I've been a huge Edie Falco fan since The Sopranos, and I think she does wonders with the difficult part of Bananas Shaughnessy, but I don't think the part becomes really interesting until she starts interacting with the others in Act II. 

David Cromer's direction and Scott Pask's set combine to ground the action firmly in its mid-60s milieu, and the entire technical production is brilliantly managed, although I didn't quite understand the gradual drifting away of the left side of the set during the final scene….  or the significance of blue leaves falling from the ceiling at the end.  (Perhaps that was explained by something that was said while my mind was wandering during Act I?)


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