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Broadway Review Roundup: THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES

Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in the Broadway revival of John Guare's comedic masterpiece THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, directed by David Cromer. THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, a strictly limited 16-week engagement opened tonight, April 25, 2011 at the Walter Kerr Theatre!

In addition to Ben Stiller as Artie Shaughnessy, Edie Falco as Bananas Shaughnessy and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Bunny Flingus, the cast includes Thomas Sadoski as Billy Einhorn, Alison Pill as Corrinna Stroller, Mary Beth Hurt as Head Nun, Christopher Abbott as Ronnie Shaughnessy, Halley Feiffer as Little Nun, Susan Bennett as Second Nunn, Jimmy Davis as Military Policeman and Tally Sessions as White Man.

In THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, Ben Stiller is Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper and wannabe songwriter, who is trying to cope with a schizophrenic wife (Falco), an impatient girlfriend (Leigh) and a visit from the Pope, all while sustaining his dream of hitting it big. THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES is a satirical take on celebrity, religion, and the frequent merging of the two.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: As directed by David Cromer - and enacted by a talent-stuffed cast that includes Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and the remarkable Edie Falco - this production zooms in on every gritty grain of pain to be found in Guare's breakthrough work from 1966. Within the dimness, there is one luminous force. And that is Falco, whose varied, nuanced acting has long been familiar to television viewers in shows that include "The Sopranos" and "Nurse Jackie"...When the world is as dark as it is in this "House," your eyes naturally seek the light, whatever its source.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: David Cromer knows the secret to a good revival: Keep it faithful and don't comment from on high. Stiller is so personally appealing, so comically desperate, and so oblivious to the absurdity of his ambitions that he makes the character of Artie almost likeable...[Falco] finds comedy in the goofy hat and gaga grin that Bananas slaps on to greet visitors, and tragedy in her memories of the feeling person she once was. What floors us is Falco's ability to play both comedy and tragedy in the same breath.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: But Stiller, who can't entirely dim his natural charisma, doesn't quite convince as a sad sack caught between hope and despondency. We buy Artie's attraction to the toxic Bunny, but not the complex feelings for Bananas that make his final gesture tragic rather than merely dramatic...Together, these characters make up 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.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: In the midst of the galloping nuns, bomb plots, shouting, love triangles and general craziness, Bananas Shaughnessy, played by a brilliant Edie Falco, emerges as the most poignant, most grounded character in a cracked universe...Stiller makes Artie's darkness and naked hunger seem almost understandable. He also beautifully captures the push-pull of a man still in love with his wife and yet pinning for a new, free affair.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post:Together, these characters make up 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.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: There's never a dull moment in director David Cromer's entertaining staging, but that's not the same as being completely satisfying. A wild and crazy work cries out for extremes, and this starry production at the Walter Kerr is too tame and emotionally mellow for its own good. Stiller, who played Ronnie in its 1986 Broadway run, gets to show talents he doesn't typically display on film. He plays piano and sings impressively while crooning his character's cornball tunes.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Ms. Falco is very definitely the star of this show, though her soft-spoken performance as Bananas Shaughnessy is anything but a star-turn: It is, rather, a still point of realism in the midst of mounting frenzy. Mr. Stiller, who played Artie's son in the last Broadway revival, is powerfully affecting as Artie this time around, while Ms. Leigh is crude, rude and shrill in exactly the right proportions.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Stiller needs more time to get a purchase on the role. Jennifer Jason Leigh is archly convincing as Bunny, dressed a la Jackie Kennedy, in David Cromer's sensitive x-ray of a production. It's Edie Falco who will steal your heart as Bananas...Gaunt, stringy and practically translucent, she's so emotionally open that it may be all you can do to keep from running onstage to wraps your arms around her.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: It sometimes feels like Cromer and his fine actors are searching for a core that the play already has considered and dismissed....of the three central characters, only Falco doesn't have this problem, partly because she plays the darkest and most passive character, but also because a soft vulnerability constantly lurks around the eyes of this remarkable actress; America has yet to scratch the surface of what she can do.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: It's impossible to ignore the nagging evidence that this is not a great match of director and material...The production frequently sings, particularly in some brilliant monologues, yet it cries out overall for a lighter touch. Bottom Line - David Cromer's production overplays the melancholy and under-serves the humor, but the enduring originality of John Guare's breakthrough play prevails.

Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia Inquirer: The quirky 40-year-old play, whose Broadway revival opened on Monday night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is blessed with an A-list cast in compelling performances: Ben Stiller and Edie Falco, and in lesser roles, Mary Beth Hurt, Allison Pill and others. Under the direction of David Cromer, they chase this strange play down until they own it.

Matt Windman, amNY: Although Guare's play remains quite funny, Cromer downplays most of its humor to ill effect. Stiller gives a surprisingly flat performance that stresses only Artie's anger and frustration. Leigh is miscast and totally unfunny as Bunny...Falco delivers a moving performance, capturing Banana's paranoia over being sent away to a mental asylum or being force-fed pills.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Whatever we think we know about the absurdity of modern celebrity, forget it. Believe me, John Guare saw it first and said it better. As early as "The House of Blue Leaves," circa 1970, the playwright nailed people's desperate hunger to be famous, or at least chummy with the famous, and made it all as wretched and laughable as anything curdling our culture today.

Robert Feldberg, Stiller, shedding his movie mannerisms, offers a distinctive portrait of a man ricocheting between hope and desperation. (He made his stage debut, playing Ronnie, in the production of 25 years ago.) Leigh, known for her intensity, gives a surprisingly funny performance, riding the wave of Bunny's implacable ambition and profound celebrity worship. And Falco is quietly touching, and then heartbreaking, as Bananas gets down on all fours, barks, wags her behind and licks Artie's hand to try to regain his affection. "The House of Blue Leaves" is a terrifically resonant play about our search for who we are.

Jonathan Mandell, Faster Times: Neither Falco nor Stiller tip the balance, and the production they are in is thoroughly competent, neither uncontrollably uproarious nor unbearably upsetting...This is so spot-on it is hard to call it a parody, and it helps to explain the continuing appeal of "The House of Blue Leaves" continues to be performed long after a Pope's visit to New York City is no longer a novelty.

Michael Musto, Village Voice: It clicks. It provokes. It entertains. It disturbs. Stiller may not seem low-level enough for his character, but he does well with it, especially when singing a cheesy knockoff of a popular tune without even realizing its origin.

Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411: No revival will ever be as good as something we saw the first time. I can remember clearly John Mahoney and Swoozie Kurtz as Artie and Bananas from 1986. They were revelatory. And yet, Ben Stiller has given Artie a new sense of desperation, Edie Falco has toned Bananas down to a human level, and Jennifer Jason Leigh brings new laughs to Bunny's weird world. John Guare's play gets more interesting under David Cromer's restrained direction.

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