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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Excellent Revival Of John Guare’s
House of Blue Leaves

Also see Richard's recent review of Dreams of the Salthorse

The Berkeley Repertory Theater kicks off its 2002/03 season with John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves at the Roda Theatre where it will run through October 20th. The playwright’s comic examination of how far people will go the find fame first premiered on April 29, 1986, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York and later transferred to the Plymouth Theatre. It had an all star cast consisting of Swoosie Kurtz (in one of the best performances of her long career), Stockard Channing, John Mahoney, Julie Hagerty, Danny Aiello and a young Ben Stiller. Winner of four Tony Awards, House of Blue Leaves played 398 performances in New York. Though many regional companies have revived this very funny play, it has been rarely produced in the Bay Area.

Berkeley Repertory director Barbara Damasked has assembled a most talented and wonderful cast for this offbeat black comedy. The play takes place in 1965 Queens where Artie Shaughnessy (Jarion Monroe) and his mentally deranged wife Bananas (Rebecca Winocky) live in a middle class apartment. Artie is a zookeeper by day and a failed songwriter at night. He dreams of a life in Hollywood with his girlfriend Bunny Flingus (Jeri Lynn Cohen). He fears that if he does not make a break soon he will be “too old for a young talent.”

Artie has many troubles: his girl friend Bunny who is a consummate chef refuses to cook for him until they are married and his son Ronnie (Adam Ludwig) is AWOL from the army and is planning to bomb the Pope in Queens. To make matters worse, on this day of days, Artie finds three frostbitten nuns up on the roof of his apartment building hoping to see the Pope better as he passes by the building. Put all of this together and you have the makings of a zingy farce. Many things happen during the 2 hour 15 minute (with intermission) farce, as the audience is taken on an emotional roller coaster ride. Even the ending is a complete surprise.

Rebecca Wisocky gives an exceptional performance as Bananas, the mentally unbalanced wife. One minute she appears completely sane and the next she is completely off her rocker. Her performance is unbeatable. Jeri Lynn Cohen, who took over at the last minute as Bunny, is great with her Queens accented role. She has the best comic dialogue and she plays it to the hilt. She reminds me of Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday. Artie is played by Jarion Monroe, and he smartly plays both the zookeeper and the songwriter like a depressed person, utilizing great comic timing.

Adam Ludwig has a small role as the AWOL son, but he gives a fine monologue about why he is doing the dastardly deed. Corrinna Stroller is grand as a Hollywood starlet who cannot hear without hearing aids. The look on her face as she tries to make out what is going on is priceless. Bill Geisslinger plays a big shot Hollywood director. Though he tends to slightly overact when he learns of the death of his mistress, he is good in the role. The three nuns are like the Marx Brothers in nun’s drag. Very funny stuff coming from the three talented actresses Wilma Bonet, Margaret Schenck and Mollie Stickney. Rounding out the cast in small roles are Craig Neibaur as an MP and Jeffrey Hoffman as a Man in White.

Barbara Damashek has presented a very good, complex production and it is well directed thoughout. Costumes by Beaver Baurer are excellent. William Bloodgood, a resident designer with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, hs designed a wonderful set for the production. It is a very witty set design.

The House of Blue Leaves runs at the Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St, Berkeley, through October 20. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. The World Premiere of Lillian Groag’s Menocchio opens on November 1.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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