If you are seeking an escape from your everyday life, in hopes of putting it aside, and just having a great time, the place you want to be is The Raven Theatre and its East stage production of John Guare’s side-splitting “The House of Blue Leaves”. This is 2 hours and 15 minutes of pure fun, with a capital “F”! The story begins with our “hero” Artie Shaughnessy ( played to absolute perfection by Chicago favorite Jon Steinhagen) an aging zoo employee, with a dream of being a songwriter, doing some numbers at Amateur night in a local New York bar. Not very much happens, although, we, the audience do find ourselves kind of liking this “everyman” who wants to find success and be “important” to the world.
He heads home to his apartment where he prepares to hit the hay, on the sofa. As we watch him prepare for bed, we see a person break into the apartment. Then, Artie’s girlfriend/downstairs neighbor Bunny (a glorious character played by Sarah Hayes) arrives to get him ready to meet their friends for the bog day in New York. Oh, did I mention, the year is 1965 and The Pope is in New York! As we begin to learn more about this couple, we find that there is much more to Artie than what meets the eye. Behind the bedroom door, and in full view of the “couple” is Artie’s wife, Bananas (deftly handled by the hilarious Kelli Strickland). As we watch these three characters do their stuff, we realize just how dysfunctional a family can be. But there is more!
Bananas has gone bananas and Artie plans to place her in a home (she has tried to “off” herself in th p ast). Bunny is his new life and they are talking about her becoming his next wife, so he can begin his new life! Yes, it sounds a bit confusing. In fact, perhaps more than a bit, but this is wher ethe fun truly begins and one surprise after another and we find ourselves rooting for some of the characters to get what it is they want out of life. There will be some fun surprises along the way. They are special, making this journey one to remember, and maybe even learn from.
Turns out that Artie’s life-long buddy is Billy Einhorn (a nice comic touch by Noah Simon) a big Hollywood producer/director. Artie is hopeful that his buddy will help him change his life and make a new start by giving him his big break. If not, as Bunny tells him perhaps a blessing from the Pope will do the trick. Directed by JoAnn Montemurro on a uniquely insane set by Ray Toler filled with wonderful props and stuff (Mary O’Dowd has defined properties/set dressing with her “stuff”), this is a comedy of errors that will have you in stitches from start to finish. I will tell you (but won’t say what) there is a surprise ending that will take your breath away!
This is a show filled with movement and action. Montemurro exceeded my expectations with her casting and direction. Steinhagen is always right on when it comes to comedy and Hayes and Strickland were able to keep up with him. I was also impressed with Simon’s character, but it was the smaller roles that truly filled in the gaps and showed just why every member of an ensemble is important to the complete production. The three actresses who played the guest nuns that arrived in Artie’s apartment were played by Kristen Williams, Shariba Rivers and the amazing Sophia Mendedian. Three very funny ladies with perfect timing and agility.
Billy’s girlfriend, who just happened to stop by, former star Corrina Stroller ( well played by Jen Short, who proves that there is no such thing as a small part) changes everyone’s lives. Son, Ronnie (Derek Herman) also plays directly to the audience to explain his life and where he went wrong. These are all dysfunctional people and Guare has written this play so that they have a chance to explain their lives to us. The audience is the key to this production. Without one, it is not funny. This show needs an audience that comes into the theater hoping to have a good time and to be entertained; an audience that wants to forget about the problems of this day and walk out of the theater with a smile on their face and a good feeling. The other featured players are Conor Clark and Bob Gerics.
David Woolley handled the fight choreography (well done, David) and the rest of the tech crew all contributed greatly to making this a solid production for Raven. Diane D. Fairchild (lights), Joe Court (sound) , Joelle Beranek (costumes) and Kendra Thulin (dialect-New York is not an easy task).Comedy such as this one relies heavily on great timing by the actors. No matter the task thrown at them from their director, each cast member got it right. Bravo!
“The House of Blue Leaves” will continue thru June 18th at The Raven Theatre located at 6157 N. Clark Street (at Granville) with performances as follows:
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $37 (seniors) to $42 SAVE $3 if you purchase online www.raventheatre.com
to reserve yours call 773-338-2177
Students and teachers are $18 (save $1 online purchase)
There is parking next door (free) and street parking, some metered some free.
Public transportation is easy with the #22 Clark Street and #36 Broadway stopping at the corner.