“House of Blue Leaves” examines 1960s culture through darkly comic lens
A combination of dark humor and 1960s social commentary sets the tone for the story of “The House of Blue Leaves,” which is being put on by the University of Massachusetts’ UMass Theatre Guild. The show opened yesterday, and runs until Saturday. From bombs to beer-drinking nuns, “The House of Blue Leaves” gives a unique view into 1960s culture and the pursuit of a dream.
The audience is given a day-long peek at crazy life of Central Park zookeeper and singer-songwriter Artie Shaughnessy. Plagued by his schizophrenic wife, Bananas, and his mistress, Bunny Flingus, Artie has big dreams of making it big in the Hollywood music scene. As fate may have it, this day in Queens, N.Y., in 1965 is destined for history. Not only is it the first time the Pope is coming to visit and speak in New York City, but it also marks the return of Artie’s son Ronnie, who went AWOL to avoid Vietnam. As the day progresses, more visitors pop in, prompting an unexpected adventure.
Originally written by John Gaure, “The House of Blue Leaves” premiered far from Broadway – in Waterford, Conn., in 1966. Since then, it has had three revivals, with the latest being in 2011 on Broadway with Ben Stiller playing as Artie, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Bunny and Edie Falco as Bananas.
Focusing on themes like celebrity obsession, religion and the trials of the struggling artist, “The House of Blue Leaves” holds as much merit today as it did in 1965.
Dan Squizzero, a junior theater and history double major at the University, directed the play. Acting since his sophomore year in high school, this is his fifth production with the Guild.
Squizzero said the play is an “interesting mix of comedy and drama,” and that “it pulls away the veil of the image of the classic American family.”
He also described the fight against time which the play faced in production.
“We only had a four week rehearsal process, which is unusually short for the Guild. Normally we’re more in the six-week range. So we had to do everything at a very quick pace, and fortunately the actors were able to focus and stay on top of things.”
Sophomore English major Ryan Marchant scored the lead role of struggling artist Artie Shaughnessy. A member of the UMass Theatre Guild for three semesters, Marchant has been acting since high school. Marchant describes the play as a “realistic approach to the nature of fame” with “potent themes.”
Christie Basinas took the role of Artie’s schizophrenic wife Bananas. A freshman sociology transfer from American University, this is Basinas’ first semester with the Guild.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from playing Bananas,” said Basinas of her character. “She suffers from mental illness, but at the same time you get a nice perspective from her. Everyone else in the show is obsessed with fame, but the one character you think is lost in outer space is the only one who is actually on the ground.”
The role of Bunny Flingus, Artie’s mistress, is played by junior Erin Wholley. “The House of Blue Leaves” is her fourth show with the Guild, but Wholley has been acting since fifth grade. Wholley is studying theater at UMass.
The play, which opened last night, will also run tonight and tomorrow night at 7 p.m., as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $6 for students and senior citizens and $10 for general admission. Tickets will be sold at the door, but they can also be bought in advance at the box office in the Fine Arts Center.
Justin Surgent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.