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Ben Stiller, Edie Falco in 'House of Blue Leaves' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

April 26, 2011 |  6:43 am

House

"The House of Blue Leaves," John Guare's 1966 comedy of deranged domesticity, is receiving a star-studded Broadway revival at the Walter Kerr Theatre with Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Set in Sunnyside, Queens, on the eve of a visit from the pope, the play follows the desperate antics of Artie Shaughnessy (Stiller), a songwriting zookeeper who lives with his schizophrenic wife, Bananas (Falco), but who is planning to run off to Los Angeles with his mistress, Bunny (Leigh).

This is the second time Stiller has performed in "The House of Blue Leaves" on Broadway. The actor had a supporting role in the 1986 Broadway production of the drama, playing the part of Artie's loose-cannon son, Ronnie.

The production that opened Monday night is staged by David Cromer, the rising young director who received critical acclaim in 2009 for his production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York. (Cromer will direct "Our Town" at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica in January.)

L.A. audiences got a chance to revisit "The House of Blue Leaves" in 2008 at the Mark Taper Forum in a different revival starring John Pankow, Kate Burton and Jane Kaczmarek.

How are New York critics reacting to the latest revival of Guare's play?

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote that "there's little that's transporting here in Mr. Guare's wild, yearning language," and Cromer can't achieve that "careful balance of fact and fantasy" needed to make the play work. The highlight of the production is Falco, who delivers "a transfixing performance as a medicated madwoman longing to feel." 

Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press described Stiller as "indefatigable, even playing the piano and singing for the role of Artie. He manages to put pathos into a character who is, from a distance, very unlovable." As his wife, Falco is "brilliant" in her ability to "convey the only character with a toe in the real world."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney called the production "unbalanced," though Guare's play "remains a strange and wonderful creation more than 40 years after it premiered." Stiller "taps into a very real ache" for his character while Leigh comes off as "merely obnoxious." In the end, "it’s impossible to ignore the nagging evidence that this is not a great match of director and material."

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post wrote that the revival production "is all over the map," but at the same time, its "choppy unpredictability is fascinating."  As Artie, "Stiller ... doesn't quite convince as a sad sack caught between hope and despondency." Taken together, the ensemble cast creates "Broadway's most oddball gallery, flailing in a hot mess of a play. But you can't get them out of your head, and that counts for a lot."

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-- David Ng

Photos, from top: Ben Stiller and Edie Falco in "The House of Blue Leaves" by John Guare (credit: Joan Marcus / Associates Press); Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Thomas Sadoski (credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press).

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