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The House of Blue Leaves

David Cromer's revival of John Guare's visionary tragicomedy is only partially successful. logo
Ben Stiller and Edie Falco in The House of Blue Leaves
(© Joan Marcus)
Edie Falco has the astonishing ability to disappear completely into any role she takes on. In director David Cromer's only partially successful revival of John Guare's hilarious -- even visionary -- tragicomedy The House of Blue Leaves, now at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre, she's hardly recognizable as the sanity-challenged Bananas. Slouching around in Tom Watson's lanky, stringy wig and Jane Greenwood's shapeless house-dresses, she's a drudge baffled at what's going on around her.

Watch her with amused and horrified amazement as she tries to make nice to husband, zookeeper and struggling songwriter Artie Shaughnessy (Ben Stiller), by pretending to be an obedient dog. Or, better still, observe her wondering why there are three nuns (Mary Beth Hurt, Susan Bennett, Halley Feiffer) huddled by the television set in the cluttered, 35-degrees-tilted Sunnyside, Queens living-room (which Scott Pask has built and furnished with frightening accuracy), who are there on October 4, 1965 as Pope Paul VI makes a landmark visit to New York City.

Nor are they the only unexpected guests: there's Artie's mistress and downstairs neighbor Bunny Flingus (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the Shaughnessys' 18-year-old son Ronnie (Christopher Abbott), AWOL from the military and hoping to detonate a home-made bomb in front of the Pope, deaf starlet Corinna Stroller (Alison Pill, resplendent in blond wig and white fur), and, eventually, her fiance and Artie's childhood pal, Billy Einhorn (Thomas Sadoski), a Hollywood mogul through whom Artie thinks he can get the celebrity he believes he deserves.

Guare brings this roomful of addled wits together to make his caustic, profoundly perspicacious point that the very concept of fame has put the nation through the wringer. He demonstrates how proximity to the famous inevitably unhinges those denied even their Andy-Warhol-promised 15 minutes.

Cromer does well in plumbing the fathomless dark that Guare sees engulfing his characters, and gets exemplary work from his supporting players in the process. But he notably misfires with Leigh and Stiller. Leigh looks right in the gaudy dresses Greenwood picked and the sorry black coif wigmaker Watson rightly arranged; but her Bunny Flingus is like something from a burlesque turn. She mines all the cliches of an ambitious floozy, yet never digs deeper.

More disappointingly, Stiller -- who played Ronnie in the play' s1986 Lincoln Center revival and whose mother, Anne Meara, was the original production's Bunny -- come up empty-handed where Artie is concerned. He gives a non-performance performance as Artie -- one that goes wrong immediately with Cromer's awkward staging of the opening sequence where Artie is singing his lame ditties before an inattentive nightclub crowd.

There, and in everything that follows, Artie is desperate, angry, punishing, obtuse. With his future -- particularly with Bunny -- collapsing around him as a result of his own doing, he's given to countless other emotions. Shockingly, Stiller conveys none of them, leaving a hole at the center of this unbalanced House of Blue Leaves.

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