The House of Blue Leaves: a theatre reviewer’s follow-up
By Bill Beard
A few months ago, I wrote about The Rocky Horror Show, as produced by a relatively new group in town, the (usual) Suspects. I complimented the group on their courage to do this cult classical musical, well known as a crazy splashy evening of theatre chaos, and for giving their production all the wildness it demands, yet keeping their show well within the “controlled chaos” which a faithful Rocky fan would expect.
But I suggested they would need to choose their next production carefully (in order to show their range and versatility), with a challenge beyond Rocky’s chaos, which I had described as a show with a “delightfully wacky, glorified tackiness and a stage full of zany, weirdo characters”!
Well, they found it! The House of Blue Leaves has all of that. It is indeed wacky and tacky and filled with off beat characters. But it also has much more underneath. It’s really the perfect follow-up show, and still within the range of the sort of fare Suspects plans to serve up; e.g. interesting different shows, things not often produced in our area, “outside the box” stuff. Blue Leaves fits the bill perfectly. It is at once a dark comedy and chaotic farce, mixed with cruel satire and compassionate pathos. It “sets the bar for comic lunacy”! That’s the challenge which the (usual) Suspects took on. Go find out for yourself how successful they were.
Alert: Blue Leaves shows again this weekend, and Rockford audiences absolutely should not miss this chance to see it. It is indeed filled with bizarre characters: Artie Shaughnessy is a zoo keeper, with dreams of becoming a famous Hollywood motion picture songwriter; his girlfriend, Bunny, in the apartment downstairs, refuses to cook for him until they’re married; his wife, Bananas, is mentally somewhere between schizoid and canine; his son Ronnie is AWOL from the army and sanity; and then throw in three house-breaking nuns, a Hollywood Director and his maimed Starlet and a few others, and set it all in the ‘60s when the Pope’s visit will go right down their street in Queens, New York, and believe me, things can get chaotic.
The ever-talented Chris Brady is brilliant as Arty, from his opening songs at the keyboard (beautifully timed and mimed) through every frenetic emotional storm. He allows….no, he compels….us to take the ride with him through his emotional maelstrom. Only his finale moment needs attention and extension.
His downstairs ‘honey’ Bunny Flingus is also marvelous. Elizabeth Curtiss gives this broad an absolutely lovable pushy control, with a personality and voice somewhere between Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice and a baritone Fran Drescher. She’s perfect.
Christine Edlen-Korneski as Arty’s wife Bananas has all the right stuff to become this seemingly crazy person; and she does a nice job of framing the complex character. But there is so much more beneath and inside that banana peel! This is probably one of the most complex characters this playwright, John Guare, every created, and I’m sure that audiences will love and accept Ms. Korneski’s consistent kook. But Bananas is the paste that holds everything together, and her underlying sensitivity and yes….wisdom, is nowhere in evidence, evidently a directorial conceptional flaw.
The rest of the cast maintains a consistent level, with some nice moments from Bridget Emerson as Corrinna Stroller and Kate Sullivan as the Little Nun, but with some other questionable casting and some unfortunate character interpretation. The set fits quite appropriately in the Nordlof’s lower level performance space; although the third row seating creates just a bit of viewing limitation for the audience.
Production Director Bob Reaven-Edlen manages to almost control the beginning-to-end chaos, but at times seems to just let the fun take on a life of its own and pandemonium-ize itself; well blocked and fairly disciplined, the evening is perfectly paced. This is an opportunity for local theatre lovers to enjoy a new experience; and we hope it is just the beginning of innovative things to come from this talented new group, the (usual) Suspects.
There are three shows this weekend: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. each night.
The Nordlof Center is located at 118 N. Main St. For tickets visit usualsuspectspresents.com.