Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The House of Blue Leaves"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"The House of Blue Leaves"

by John Guare
Directed by Gail DeBiak

Set Design by Catherine Hetmansky
Lighting Design by Heidi Hinkel
Sound Design by Mike Callahan & Tom Harrington
Stage Manager Sarah Kary

Bananas Shaughnessy.........Candace Hopkins
Ronnie Shaughnessy..........Mark A. Cafazzo
Corinna Stroller.....Jennifer Condon-Gagnon
Artie Shaughnessy..............Bill Doscher
Bunny Flingus..................Holly Garman
Billy Einhorn.....................Jeff Gill
Head Nun.........................Vivian Liu
Second Nun....................Teresa Goding
Little Nun.....................Emily Graham
M.P. .............................Tom Brady
Woman in White...................Diana Kane

I don't for a moment believe that they let Candace Hopkins play the starring role in John Guare's surreal farce "The House of Blue Leaves" just because she's the president of The Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain; matter of fact, I bet it's exactly the other way around. Matter of fact, it might not even have been the starring role until she got cast in it. And it's not as though it's easy, mind you. Everyone is damn good, right down to Diana Kane in the walk-on (twice) role of The Woman in White or Tom Brady in the run-about role of The M.P.; but great as they all are, Candace Hopkins is just, well, better. And I don't mean she steals scenes either. It's hard to explain; you gotta go see it to understand it.

The show opens with Bill Doscher playing Artie Shaughnessy, a zoo-keeper who writes and sings show-songs, but admits he's too old to be a young star anymore. He's held back because his wife is crazy --- I mean round-the-bend bonkers (her name, "Bananas Shaughnessy" says it all; that's the Candace Hopkins role). His snappy solution, though, is to sock her away in a booby-hatch (That Blue Leaves house; it's a sort of a poetical, metaphorical thingie --- you gotta go see it to understand it) and run away with the supportive --- well okay pushy love of his life Bunny Flingus (Holly Garman) who wants Pope Paul on his visit Stateside to bless their union before His Holiness stops the Vietnam War. Oh yeah, this is all taking place on October 4, 1965, in a cold apartment in Queens, okay?

And Artie's got a shot, because he went through grammar school with his life-long pal Billy Einhorn (Jeff Gill), who never lost touch even though he's become a top movie director. He even comes to visit at the apartment, but only after the star of his first hit picture and new girl-friend (Jennifer Condon-Gagnon) drops in and has a tragic accident. (I can't tell you about the tragic accident because it'd spoil the plot. Actually, it's her second tragic accident, but I can't tell you about the first one either, except to say the consequences of it make her nearly every line screamingly funny. But you gotta go see it to understand, because My Lips Are Sealed.)

Actually, the one person in this cast who might be said to upstage Candace Hopkins is Mark A. Cafazzo, playing Artie's son Ronnie Shaughnessy who is a.w.o.l. from Fort Dix, New Jersey (Now you know why Tom Brady's playing an M.P., right?) who might be a bit bonkers himself. He is a spectacularly athletic actor, who --- well, I mean, if some night he lands a foot and a half farther down-stage, maybe President Hopkins will have a hell of a lot to explain to the Footlight Club insurance adjusters, is all I got to say. But he gets to do his really eye-opening star-turn at the opening of act one on a bare stage --- and upstaging a bare stage, even they way he does it, is easier than he makes it. Ya get me?

This show calls for a completely realistic set, and Catherine Hetmansky and the crew realized everything, including the brick wall the other side of the air-shaft. Heidi Hinkel's lights were mainly bang-up and bang-down, but that blue-leaves spotlight.....! Pat Brown and Diana Kane got "ordinary-looking" costumes, which ain't as easy as it looks, Sara Kary got everyone onstage exactly when they should, and the explo.. and the off-stage special effects went off perfectly, and the show was directed. You can tell it was directed because I've spent all my time raving about the damn actors --- and that means every time somebody blew a motivation or fudged concentration or went over the top or hogged focus, it was Gail DeBiak pulled the whole show back into true and smoothed all the transitions. And when they blew lines and repeated themselves for forty-seven second in act one opening night, it was Gail DeBiak they had to keep from slitting her throat, right? (But it never happened again, did it?)

And her cast, really, is dynamite. Guare's script demands one shockingly inventive surprise after another, plateau after higher plateau of credibility and schtick, and everyone delivers. That's why I keep coming back to Candace Hopkins playing that crazy-lady and taking-focus when required. I've seen her elsewhere, seen her playing a lesbian nurse, an over-the-top drunk, a dancing-girl. In this show she does things with her face, her hands, her eyes, with only the top third of her head peeping through a door, being poignantly rational one point and being a crazy-lady being a Pekinese or a Chihuahua a second later. She is the motor of this show, and yet everyone on stage with her gets room in which to shine.

You see, both Jennifer Condon-Gagnon and Candace Hopkins as actors are prisoners of their body-types. Jennifer spends her life trying to make Pretty Ladies believably human onstage, and Candace plays a lot of fat ladies. I have seen her roll-on-the-floor hilarious, I've seen her in love scenes and --- okay, the hell with hiding the plot, in death scenes, and I swear --- if in some surreal universe Candace Hopkins were to understudy Cathy Rigby, if she had to go on some night I know I would believe she could fly. And you'd believe it too. You gotta go see her to understand what I mean. And there ain't a lot of performances left, so you better get on it.

Love, ===Anon.
Oh hell, the Nuns! I forgot the Godd.....arned Nuns! Well, look, if you remember Parochial School, all you gotta know is every single one of them nuns gets Exactly What She Deserves! You gotta go see them to understand. Got me?

"The House of Blue Leaves" (till 3 October)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN

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