Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 22, 2008

"The House of Blue Leaves"

New Century Theatre, Northampton
through June 28
By K.J. Rogowski

New Century Theatre's production of John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" is not an easy show to watch. It makes audience members feel uncomfortable and uneasy, even while laughing. That is a good thing, because that is its purpose. The laughter in this black comedy comes as much from the audience's nervousness as the show's humor.

While on the surface, even the characters’ names may make one wonder about the seriousness of the plot (with an unknown zoo keeper/songwriter, whose insane wife is named Bananas, and his girlfriend named Bunny), yet the volatility of these people's lives is anything but laughable. They hitch their most precious and fragile dreams and hopes on even fainter and most illusory prospects with a naive trust and sincerity that almost makes the viewer cringe. For these people, there is always hope, because they read it in Reader's Digest, and there is always despair, because they must depend on their fellow man.

Driving this story are Sam Rush, Lisa Abend, Lisa Rowe-Beddoe, and Justin Fuller. While each of them adds another layer to the morass of these characters' lives, Fuller's solo scene, and the final moments between Rush and Rowe-Beddoe are especially powerful. Add to this mix of characters and their strange lives, a deaf actress, a big shot Hollywood director, three nuns, an MP, the man in white, and the Pope, and here’s a tale that pulls in three directions at once, as all their lives careen and collide. Rand Foerster's direction gives a balance to the pathos and humor, just as Daniel D. Rist's set design reflects the imbalance of lives lived on the edge of hope.