Review: Engaging performances power Players Club of Swarthmore’s’House of Blue Leaves’

By Margie Royal

Playwright John Guare is perhaps best known for his 1990s drama “Six Degrees of Separation.” His early work, “The House of Blue Leaves,” won an Obie and NY Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best American Play of 1970- 71. Players Club of Swarthmore is presenting an intriguing and well-acted revival of “House of Blue Leaves” through April 1.
I was not familiar with the play, and after seeing the well-performed opening night show, found myself recalling that the early 1970s were a time of upheaval and protest. America was still fighting the Vietnam War, terrorist attacks and plane hijacks made headlines, the first oil crisis occurred and ecological awareness first surfaced. It was a time of social unrest, clashing idealogies and upheaval.
Sort of like now.

Allison Gerrard as Bunny and Paul Kerrigan as Artie do a wonderul job portraying characters dreaming of futures that allow them to escape from their present circumstances. Photo by Rose Azrael.

At the start, “The House of Blue Leaves” appears to be a fairly conventional comedy. It isn’t, and the play quickly reveals that it isn’t by introducing a wacky assortment of characters. Zookepper Artie Shaugnessy (Paul Kerrigan) is a songwriter hoping to be famous. He lives with his perfectly-named wife, Bananas (Karen Johnston). His mistress, Bunny Flingus (Allison Gerrard), is in the apartment below.
The play is set in 1965, on the day the Pope is coming to New York City. The fun of the show is in meeting its outageous characters, so I won’t reveal more of the plot. Suffice it to say you’ll meet Artie’s son, Ronnie (DJ Gleason). You’ll also meet Artie’s friend Billy Einhorn (Jay Steinberg), now a successful Hollywood producer, and his movie star girlfriend, Corrinna (Elizabeth Gallagher). Three nuns will also visit the apartment. The three are nicely played by Rose Azrael, Ilana Brookshier and Moriah Gornstein. Ryan Henzes as an M.P. and Adam Young as the Man in White, also make cameo appearances.
Although the play is a comedy, don’t expect a neatly-played out Neil Simon type of plot. “The House of Blue Leaves” is a nutty, rule-breaking story, with vivid, larger-than-the life characters that present a real challenge for actors to bring to life.

DJ Gleason turns in a terrific, energized performance as Ronnie. Photo by Rose Azrael

Director Ruth Wells Fischer has cast the show very well and nicely paces the strange story to its bizarre end. Paul Kerrigan is excellent as Artie. Artie is the one character the audience can probably relate to: he’s trapped in a mundane existence but dreaming of a Hollywood ending even as his world falls to pieces around him. Paul Kerrigan plays him as a lovable sad-sack. Allison Gerrard as Bunny brings to life a colorful, oddball hoping for a secure future.Karen Johnston is terrfic as Bananas, showing us a woman unable to control her craziness, and unable to express — in a “normal” way — the hurt and anger she obviously feels. DJ Gleason is also wonderful as Artie and Bunny’s mantic son, Ronnie.
The costume team of Reba Ferdman, Dot Kowal, Sarah Gaughan do a great job capturing the look of the 1960s and the colorful eccentricity of Bunny.
Ed Robins’s NYC 1965 drab apartment is also nicely done and even features security bars on the windows. Charles Hoover lights the action, and his blue lighting is particularly effective.
“House of Blue Leaves” defies labeling. It’s a comedy, and yet it’s not. It’s characters are weird and yet, thanks to Director Fischer and her talented cast, the characters are perfectly understandable and engaging.

If You Go: “The House of Blue Leaves” runs  through Saturday, April 1. Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Audiences can meet the artists in a talkback discussion after the March 26 performance. Buy tickets either online atwww.pcstheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or at the door. For more information about PCS – including upcoming events, shows, ticketing and directions, visit www.pcstheater.org.