The House of Blue Leaves Theatre Review at at the New Mark Taper Forum - A Hilarious Screwball Comedy Straight Out Of Queens, New York

Artie ( John Pankow) is destined for better things. He’s convinced of it. A zookeeper by day, he frequents amateur night where he plays his melodically quasi-original little diddies. Only lately he’s noticed that he’s the oldest guy showing up for amateur night. Yes, it’s time for him to make his move; but there are just a few things holding him back.

John Pankow as Artie in "The House of Blues Leaves"

Bunny ( Jane Kaczmarek) is the hot little number who lives downstairs, the one he’s been fooling around with for months. She recognizes his talent and constantly nags him to call his pal Billy. You know, Billy, Artie’s childhood buddy, the one kid from the neighborhood who got out, and make it big as a director in Hollywood. With promises of devotion and vows of giving Artie her most cherished gift – her cooking – Artie is getting closer and closer to making that call and leaving Sunnyside, Queens behind all together.

Jane Kaczmarek as Bunny in "The House of Blue Leaves"

Oh yeah. But there’s still that few things holding Artie back. Let’s see, it could be that he and Billy are actually friends and he wouldn’t want to trade on that for a shot at being a big Hollywood musical writer. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s still married to Bananas ( Kate Burton), his wife of 18 years who just up and went nuts on him one winter day. Even through her random barking on all fours or the fits of tearful wailing, ever since that day, Artie has loathed and loved her madly.

Diedrich Bader (l) & John Pankow in "The House of Blue Leaves"

But on this bright day in October of 1965, he’s gonna turn all things around. This is the day he got up the nerves to call Billy ( Diedrich Bader), who seemed to be excited that he’s coming. This is the day Artie finds the strength to call the loony bin to have Bananas carted away.

John Pankow & Kate Burton in "The House of Blue Leaves"

And this is the day that The Pope is coming to town. Of course, where there’s a Pope, there have to be habit-wearing groupie nuns, right?

(l to r) Mary Kay Wulf, Angela Goethals & Rusty Schwimmer are Pope Groupies in "The House of Blue Leaves"

Maybe he can get his sheet music blessed. But most certainly, now that the Pope is here, he will stop this crazy Vietnam business just in time so his slightly pyschotic son, Ronnie ( James Immekus), won’t have to go off to war after all. Artie is certain he can achieve all this in one day which leaves only one question remaining: does true friendship have any real bounds; like perhaps say, maybe, indirectly, accidentally killing one’s fiancée...?

(l to r) Kate Burton, Mia Barron & Jane Kaczmarek in "The House of Blue Leaves"

The House of Blue Leaves is at best at fairly intricate I Love Lucy Episode, which is meant as absolutely as a compliment. It takes us back to a time when most of America was still awe-struck by fame and celebrity. There’s comic confusion and characters so big the stage is bursting at the arches. Artie opens the show by stripping away the fourth wall, making the milling latecomers part of his “amateur night act” as he plays a few tunes. After Artie's set, club's velvety curtains rise to reveal his shabby, magazine littered, bar-windowed apartment.  

John Pankow & Kate Burton in "The House of Blue Leaves"

There are spontaneous soliloquies sprinkled throughout the evening from most characters; an elements which was not my favorite part of the plays structure. The audience targeted parentheticals just stood out for me as more of a cheat to sneak in back story. Although quite well written and funny, it would have been nice if the playwright could have found a way to give us that information without spoon-feeding the audience, especially when we are supposed to constantly re-engage in such a broad fantasy as this. It would have been nice to have something special, just for Artie.  

The story takes several U-Turns in to the dark and twisted, which throws that balance of the play off by a mile. And while great performances easily draw you back into the slapstick, those solitary sinister cords resound well beyond the moments they occur.

(l to r) Kate Burton, John Pankow & Jane Kaczmarek in "The House of Blue Leaves"

The performances of the three leads were truly well done. Pankow, Kaczmarek and Burton are all excellent showmen putting their razor-sharp comic skills on display in this piece. The House of Blue Leaves is everything you always wanted in a screwball comedy: near misses and misunderstandings, thick New York Accents, live piano music, and a poor schmuck with a dream. A great time will be had by all.

Believe me, I know. I don’t write for a magazine for nothing ya know!

The House of Blue Leaves is running at the New Mark Taper Forum now through Octobert 19, 2008.

www. centertheatregroup.org

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

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