With The House of Blue Leaves, Profile Theatre ends a season of works by playwright John Guare. And the end couldn't come soon enough. Guare is an acquired taste, difficult for some audiences to "get," and even more difficult for most companies to perform. Done right, his better plays (of which The House of Blue Leaves is one) can be amazing. Sadly, a full season of Profile's attempts has been grindingly difficult to watch.
Guare writes dark comedies full of over-the-top characters, hyperbolic rants, and absurd surprises. The House of Blue Leaves is about the conflict of dreams with reality. It features a failed songwriter who makes a living as a zookeeper, his failed housewife who is losing her mind, his failed mistress who clings to him for some hope of a famous future, and their son, a failed soldier who is planning to blow up the pope. It's 1965 in Queens, New York, and everyone in the play is searching for transcendence. Success lies just around the bend, they convince themselves: If they could just brush elbows with celebrity they'd be on their way to being the people they want to be.
Guare's tarnished vision of the American dream is a dark farce with direct addresses to the audience and assaults on marriage, family, and Catholicism. In its original '60s and '70s productions, this show was revolutionary. Guare foreshadowed contemporary obsessions with media and celebrity, the troubled youth of school shootings, and traditional religion's withering sway over our private lives. But by 2008, it's all rather run of the mill. To make Guare's "out there" absurdism work, a company must fully develop his characters, instead of relying on one-note cartoons—which is exactly the mistake Profile makes.
Bananas Shaughnessy (Sarah Lucht) and her son Ronnie (Mario Calcagno) are both played as "crazy," infantilized and oversimplified to the point of seeming more retarded than troubled. Artie Shaughnessy (Ted Roisum) is "disgruntled," and his girlfriend Bunny (Trisha Todd) is "brassy." This season, Profile has consistently failed to grasp nuance of character and truth of emotion. It's when Guare's characters are at their zaniest that they need to seem the most tangible and human, but Profile never gets there. The House of Blue Leaves is little more than two hours of one-note fumbling.