‘House of Blue Leaves’ a darkly comic look at ’60s | PostIndependent.com

‘House of Blue Leaves’ a darkly comic look at ’60s

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

CARBONDALE, Colorado – Thunder River Theatre Company opens its 17th season tonight with “The House of Blue Leaves,” a hilarious, irreverent and quirky love story by John Guare.

“This play is about the dreams people have, aspiring to reach their bliss, and then the crazy things they do to realize those dreams, instead of letting things unfold the way they need to,” said Lon Winston, artistic director for Thunder River and the play’s director.

Set in mid-1960s New York City next to the Queensborough Bridge, it’s the story of Artie Shaughnessy (Lee Sullivan), a zookeeper and songwriter who envisions himself writing musical scores and lyrics for movies in Hollywood.

“Of course he’s not very good at it, which makes it very funny,” Winston said.

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Artie has a complicated personal life. His wife, Bananas (Valerie Haugen), is off mentally, unhinged from reality in a funny sort of way. Artie finds solace and sex downstairs with the voluptuous Bunny Flingus (Jennifer Michaud), a situation that Bananas is not sure whether she is imagining or not.

Their son Ronnie (Sean Warneke) shows up AWOL from the Vietnam War, and Pope Paul VI is about to make his famous visit to the United Nations asking for an end to the war.

“Everybody is crazy in this play. Even the three nuns who climb through the window and want to see the pope on TV are crazy,” Winston said.

Meanwhile, Artie is pinning his professional hopes on his longtime buddy Billy Einhorn (Richard Lyon), who is now a film producer in Hollywood.

The war, the infidelity and Artie’s unfulfilled ambitions present serious themes, Winston said. “Guare makes us laugh at all of them. That’s the history of black comedy,” he said.

“The House of Blue Leaves” made its stage debut in 1971, winning the Drama Desk Award and Obie Award for Best American Play that year. The play came back to the stage in 1986, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

“We considered doing it about five or six years ago,” Winston said. “But after reading it then, we decided it wasn’t ready.”

The aftermath and memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and the ensuing war in Iraq were still too fresh and present in people’s minds, Winston said, and the dark comedy and themes in the play would have been too pointed.

But earlier this year, director David Cromer revived the play at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City, with actors Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Back in 1986, Stiller played Ronnie. This year he played Artie.

When Winston heard about the New York revival, he pulled out the script for another reading.

“I found myself laughing. I think we are far enough along in moving ahead from the terrible darkness the country went through after 9/11,” he said.

“The play is funny and irreverent. I think our audiences are going to love it. It’s time to laugh and look at the humorous side,” Winston said.

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