The House of Blue Leaves
How appropriate for Ben Stiller to return to Broadway in a revival of John Guare’s 1966 absurdist comedy “The House of Blue Leaves.”
Stiller played the small role of Ronnie Shaughnessy in a lauded 1986 Broadway production and has now graduated to portraying Ronnie’s father, zookeeper and aspiring songwriter Artie Shaughnessy.
The play, widely considered a modern classic, is set in Artie’s chaotic and messy Queens apartment on the day that Pope Paul VI is coming to the city to speak out against the Vietnam War. While Artie and his girlfriend Bunny (Jennifer Jason Leigh) plot moving to Hollywood, Artie’s schizophrenic wife Bananas (Edie Falco) looks on with confusion and suspicion.
After a pretty uneventful Act 1, Artie’s son — who has deserted the army — reveals his intent to kill the pope with a homemade bomb. Corrinna Stroller, the deaf fiancée of Artie’s childhood friend turned movie producer, shows up at the door. Three nuns desperate for a glance at the pope arrive through the window.
David Cromer, quite possibly the hottest director now working on Broadway, has a reputation for deconstructing and darkening well-known titles such as “Our Town,” which had a very successful Off-Broadway run, and “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which quickly flopped.
Although Guare’s play remains quite funny, Cromer downplays most of its humor to ill effect. His greatest stamp on the production is to set the stage at a sharp center angle, allowing the characters to move forward and directly address the audience during their monologues.
Stiller gives a surprisingly flat performance that stresses only Artie’s anger and frustration. Leigh is miscast and totally unfunny as Bunny, lacking the character’s aggressive and over-the-top qualities.
Luckily, Falco delivers a moving performance, capturing Banana’s paranoia over being sent away to a mental asylum or being force-fed pills.
If you go: “The House of Blue Leaves” plays at the Walter Kerr Theater through July 23. 219 W. 48th St., 212-239-6200, HouseofBlueLeaves.com.