Dream of a cast enlivens Guare's farce `House of Blue Leaves'


Critic's corner -- theater


John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves is a tragic farce. No, no. Make that a farcical tragedy. Either way, it's about thwarted dreams.

But there's nothing thwarted about the dream community theater cast that director Steve Gold- klang has assembled at Fell's Point Corner Theatre. Heading the cast is Patrick Martyn as Artie Shaughnessy, zookeeper and frustrated songwriter. Martyn throws his heart into the role, not to mention his nervous megawatt grin and irrepressibly animated gestures.

Set in 1965 Queens, N.Y., the day Pope Paul VI delivered an anti-war speech to the United Nations, the play is peopled with ordinary folks whose lives are warped by misguided images of celebrity and religion.

Artie's girlfriend, Bunny Flingus - played by Holly Pasciullo in a manner as comically brash as her fake leopard coat and pink high-heeled boots - is convinced that if the pope blesses them when he passes through Queens, she and Artie will find happiness and success in Hollywood.

Of course, there is the pesky matter of Artie's wife, a mentally unstable woman appropriately named Bananas (gently portrayed by Lynda McClary). While these three are sorting out their needs and neuroses, Artie and Bananas' soldier son (an intense Chris Krysztofiak) sneaks back home, AWOL and on his own scary mission to see the pope.

Goldklang's lead actors convey just the right mix of ebullience and sincerity. The supporting characters are equally well-played and eclectic, including a trio of nuns and a deaf starlet, whose combined presence contributes significantly to the farce.

The play's tone takes a sharp turn near the end as the playwright drives home the dangers of worshiping celebrity and fame, a frequent theme for Guare, and one that figures prominently in his best-known play, Six Degrees of Separation. Goldklang, who first directed The House of Blue Leaves at the Vagabond Players 18 years ago, navigates the script's abrupt changes of course with assurance.

At one point, Artie's best friend, a Hollywood filmmaker, tells him that being an audience is "the greatest talent in the world." This production makes it a pleasure.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 20. Tickets are $14. Call 410-276-7837.

Spooky `St. Nicholas'

Irish playwright Conor McPherson is known for his storytelling abilities. His 1999 Broadway play, The Weir, is a kind of tall-tale-telling contest. In the less familiar St. Nicholas, he strips the drama down to its most basic components - a bare stage and a single actor with a saga to relate.

It's a piece well-suited to Performance Workshop Theatre and particularly to actor Marc Horwitz, whose talents as a storyteller were demonstrated two seasons ago when he did a series of readings of short stories written by playwrights. In St. Nicholas, however, Horwitz isn't merely telling a story, he's playing a character - a bitter, burned-out Dublin drama critic whose disdain for the plays he reviews is exceeded only by his disdain for himself.

But that's merely the setup. The central story that Horwitz's unnamed character relates concerns an encounter with vampires (a story peppered with strong language and adult subject matter). The critic thinks he's sharing a lesson about the true nature of power. But McPherson seems to be implying that critics don't even have the gumption to be genuine bloodsuckers. Instead of the thing itself, the critic in St. Nicholas takes on the role of what might be called a vampire pimp, procuring victims for a lair of vampires.

The story could be ridiculous and overwrought, but under Marlyn G. Robinson's understated direction, Horwitz plays his brogue-tinged role in such a low-key, deliberate and subtly varied manner, he lends it a grain of credibility, suggesting, but never quite affirming, that this seemingly rational critic has suffered a loss of sanity.

Combined with designer Ryan Griffen's wonderful shadowy lighting, the result is that St. Nicholas, despite its title, makes an especially creepy Halloween treat - and not only for bloodsucking theater critics.

Show times at Performance Workshop Theatre, 28 E. Ostend St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. selected Sundays, through Nov. 26. Tickets are $18. Call 410-659-7830.

`80s Prom' extended

If you haven't rounded up a date for The Awesome 80s Prom, you've got a little more time. The interactive show at the Hippodrome's M&T Bank Pavilion, 12 N. Eutaw St., now runs through Dec. 17. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with the pre-show beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Thursday performances have been discontinued.) Call 410-547-SEAT.


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