The Acadia Theatre Company’s upcoming production of The House of Blue Leaves certainly paints pictures of each and every one of the ways you could see the word as ”crazy”. The volatile and quirky atmosphere manifests grimly and hysterically. Artie and Bananas who are husband and wife, exemplify two very different aspects of the term. While Bananas is mentally ill, the Artie, is unable to appreciate and care for Bananas, and his job. He is also unable to live in the moment because of his obsession with fame. Robert Seale, director of the ATC’s upcoming production, refers to this as, “our unbelievable pursuit of material wealth and… celebrity worship.” The black comedy illustrates what can happen to a longstanding and deep relationship when one of the parties is driven by these pursuits.
Despite having been originally written in the late 1960s, The House of Blue Leaves is still an incredibly relevant play. In many ways, it’s about the desperation for fame and validation, and the ways in which this desperation drives an individual’s actions. “Witness Facebook,” says Seale, “or the constant onslaught of tweets… We constantly need to know how many followers we have, know how many people like us… [We want others to] think well of us or think that we’re something that they’re not privileged enough to be.”
In fact, Bananas is the only character that is clearly looking out for others more than for personal material gain. Jenna Newcomb, the actress playing Bananas, states that, “she is probably the calmest character as well as the sanest character in the play… Which is kind of funny and ironic considering everyone thinks she’s crazy. But, [the other characters] are so wrapped up in their own lives… and very driven to get what they want.” In fact, Bananas’ schizophrenia is treated in a way that makes it clear that, as Newcomb states, “she’s not the one in the wrong and that the way [the other characters] treat her is not okay.”
Seale cites the inclusion of Bananas as a central character and catalyst as one of the things that makes The House of Blue Leaves so groundbreaking and courageous. Mental illness is incredibly present in everyday life. “We could talk about vets coming home from Afghanistan and committing suicide,” says Seale. “We could talk about Robin Williams and his depression. We could talk about… the de-stigmatization of a number of mental disorders and our wish to have them simply considered like any physical malady… They should be on an equal basis.”
Although each character shows glimmers of “crazy” throughout the production, there is also a far gentler side that only leads to explosive chaos after misunderstanding. As Chris McEwen, who plays the role of Artie said regarding his own character, “he’s just trying to be accepted by everyone, and loved by everyone… but, he doesn’t go about it the smartest ways… He’s just very out of touch with reality and himself.”
One of Seale’s hopes for the audience is that seeing the characters show the many layers of their personalities, bit by bit will cause “some questioning and some searching and some re-examination of one’s own attitudes – as a result… I think that’s a good thing for anybody at any stage in their life.”
Artie Shaugnessy is a songwriter with visions of glory. Toiling by day as a zoo-keeper. He desperately wants to escape his lower middle-class existence and become a popular singer and songwriter. He lives with his wife, Bananas. Much to the chagrin of Artie’s downstairs mistress, Bunny Flingus. Who’ll sleep with him anytime but refuses to cook until they are married. The ambitious Bunny hatches a plan to commit Bananas and move to Hollywood so that Artie can collaborate with his childhood friend Billy Einhorn, who grew up to be a film producer. Also on the scene are a deaf movie actress (in Billy’s tow), a trio of excitable nuns, and a relation of Artie’s, having gone AWOL.
November 25-28 & December 1-4, 7:30pm Denton Theatre. Tickets at the Acadia Box Office (902) 542-5500 or at the door. $15 regular, $10 students & seniors, $7 for groups of 8 or more. 25% OFF JOE’S BREAKFAST & LUNCH WITH PROOF OF ATTENDANCE.