“The House of Blue Leaves” is set in 1965 and was first staged off-Broadway in 1971, but in many ways it's more relevant today than ever.
Written by American playwright John Guare, First Presbyterian Theater presents the show starting tonight.
“The play really investigates Americans' obsession with celebrity and the extent to which people are willing to go in pursuit of that idea of celebrity,” said IPFW theater professor Craig A. Humphrey, who is directing the show. And because we have a wider sense of celebrity now, largely due to social media and YouTube, it's “probably more pertinent now than when he wrote it,” Humphrey said.
The play is about a day in the life of Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper by day who dreams of being a songwriter. On this particular day in Artie's life, Pope Paul is visiting New York City, saying Mass at Yankee Stadium.
Artie has a wife named Bananas — “she is appropriately named because she is bananas,” Humphrey said — and a mistress named Bunny. He also has a son who is AWOL from the military who wants to blow up the pope.
Throw in a few nuns, an old school friend and Hollywood producer who may be able to help Artie with his dreams, add a few plot twists, and you have the makings of a very funny show, Humphrey said.
“But then the play turns dark at the end,” he said. “The end of the play certainly makes you think.”
The play has had three major Broadway or off-Broadway productions, in 1971, 1986 and 2011. In 1986, Ben Stiller played the son, and in 2011 he played Artie.
When Humphrey was working in summer stock in 1982, the theater he was with did a production of “The House of Blue Leaves.”
“It's one of those plays that's just kept coming back over the years,” he said.
He never felt he could stage it at IPFW, however, because the characters were mostly too old for most of the theater students.
When Thom Hofrichter, managing artistic director at First Presbyterian, asked Humphrey if he was interested in directing a play at the theater this season, Humphrey suggested “The House of Blue Leaves.”
Hofrichter “was completely behind it,” Humphrey said.