KPBS AIRDATE: November 14, 1991
We’ve all seen it, or maybe even had the experience. A match seems to be made in heaven, until the parties leave the close comfort of home and go out into the world. Then things can turn hellish.
So it appears to be for director Tom Rudolph and actor Christina Courtenay. Last year, when both were actively involved at SDSU, his directing style and her acting style were a perfect match in John Guare’s “Landscape of the Body.” Now they’re back together, but they’ve moved on to La Mesa, and Lamplighters Community Theatre. They’re still working with Guare, in an earlier, 1971 play — the dark, unnerving comedy, “The House of Blue Leaves.” But they just don’t fit comfortably into the new surroundings.
Courtenay sticks out like a sore thumb. Her acting is deft, sure, multi-layered. Hers, in fact, is the only actual three-dimensional character portrayal on the stage. She IS Bananas, the aptly named mother of the flaky Shaughnessy family, a woman who confuses Brillo with hamburgers and has a penchant for acting and eating like a puppy. It’s an achingly good performance.
Only Stevan Grubic, alone among the rest of the cast of eleven, captures the essence of a character — Ronnie, Bananas’ nutso, menacing son, who goes AWOL from the Army in hopes of blowing up the Pope.
It is Pope Paul’s impending visit that proves catalyst for all the play’s wacky action, with its compulsive comedy songsters, Hollywood moguls and has-beens, culinary sexpots and beer-guzzling nuns.
The time is 1965. The place is Sunnyside, Queens. And the Shaughnessy family is Bonkers. The blue leaves of the title, in fact, refer to a tree outside the Loony Bin to which Artie Shaughnessy wants to have his wife committed. Turns out, they aren’t really leaves at all, but birds that fly off as one at the slightest breeze. A small indication of Guare’s lyrical, poetic thinking and writing. But you’d never know it here.
Guare’s chaotic style of comedy makes it easy to push his characters over the top. But here, without a shred of subtlety, most of the characters manage to be underdone, as unheated as Bananas’ Brillo burgers. Some of the best comic lines and moments are blithely tossed away. And the blackness of the comedy is missing, as well as its underlying anger, terror and paranoia.
Director Rudolph has made some odd choices — in casting and concept. The play itself is an odd selection for this community theater, which tends to favor musicals and light comedies. With everything sort of tempered, and without the edge Guare intended, this is a less than satisfying evening of real theater. But it shouldn’t be curtains for Courtenay and Rudolph.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.