The House of Blue Leaves | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The House of Blue Leaves

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The House of Blue Leaves, Red Wolf Theatre Company, Center Theater. There's really only one way to do justice to John Guare's 1971 screwball black comedy, the story of a would-be songwriter, his manic wife, and his screwy mistress awaiting the pope's arrival in New York City in 1965. It requires actors who can hustle with decorum, whose emotional prowess and understanding of how to convey eccentricities in efficient sips rather than big swigs will give Guare's goofy situations and loopy characters some dignity.

That's not happening in Red Wolf's production, though the cast gives it the old community-theater try. With one gleeful exception, they aren't able to make this staging anything more than satisfactory at best. True, today Guare's script may seem just so many old-school gags; his cringe-inducing cornball humor ("O'Ryan, the Irish constellation") and endearing "problems" (nuns with attitude, a lost hearing aid) would make even my grandmother grumpy.

But the ensemble stumbles. Director Peter Toran needs to pay more attention to polishing the performances and establishing small details (clear beer? invisible slipcovers?). With his dull cadences, David Tatosian is far too prosy as Artie, and as his girlfriend, Bunny, Susan Block overacts for two. Cheryl Lynn Golemo's underplaying of the wife, Bananas, clicks marvelously at times but is otherwise frustratingly low-key. Beth Lacke utterly delights, however, with a too brief appearance in act two as an actress who's hard-of-hearing. Too bad Lacke's killer timing and sparkling aura get lost in the threadbare goings-on around her.

--Erik Piepenburg

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