KPBS AIRDATE: April 16, 2004
Fame — everyone wants it, few get it, and it weighs heavily on those who have it. The price of success features prominently in two vastly different plays: the Greek drama “Oedipus at Colonus” and the 20th century tragicomedy, “The House of Blue Leaves.” In one, a man can’t get back to his homeland; in the other, a woman never leaves her home.
“Oedipus at Colonus” is part two of the great Sophocles trilogy. The former king of Thebes has already murdered his father, married his mother, blinded himself and been exiled. Now, an old man, broken but unbowed, he’s come to fulfill the final element of the prophesy, to die at Colonus in Athens. In this clear, comprehensible and timely translation by Dr. Marianne McDonald, Oedipus still rages with passion — love for his daughters, hatred for his sons. The play is about searching for identity, making a life of quality and dying with dignity. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, George Ye has assembled a compelling cast, with Jack Banning’s frail but riveting Oedipus at the center, bounded by the potent performances of Von Schauer, Jim Chovick, Beth Bayless and Robin Christ. “Fame,” says the fading monarch, “trickles away and comes to nothing.”
But don’t try to tell that to anyone in “The House of Blue Leaves.” They’d die for a little attention, and several of them actually do. John Guare’s highly lauded but controversial creation won the Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play in 1971 and snagged four Tonys for its 1986 revival. But it’s a tad schizophrenic: a dark stew of black humor, farce, tragedy and social commentary.
Set in Sunnyside Queens, 1965, the day the Pope arrived in New York purportedly to put an “end to the Vietnam War,” the piece focuses on Artie, a wannabe songwriter who works at the Bronx Zoo, and his unstable, delusional wife, Bananas. And a number of other wackos, including their nutcase son who wants his five minutes of fame for assassinating the Pope. Then there’s Artie’s sexy/cheesy, micromanaging mistress Bunny, a couple of stray nuns, a hearing-impaired movie star and a Hollywood producer who flies in at the end, kind of deus ex Malibu, to set things right. Sort of.
The Lynx Performance Theatre production boasts some finely etched performances, notably Michelle Burkhart as the ethereally nutty Bananas, Laura Bozanich as the motor-mouth mistress and Tim Curns as the tightly coiled son. Fred Harlow makes Artie a pathetic loser, but under Al Germani’s direction, it’s all more serious and psychological than it should be. However bleak, with its stiletto stabs at religion, celebrity and the American Dream, this is still a comedy. Here laughter, like fame, remains elusive.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.