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Theater Review: ‘The House of Blue Leaves’

It sometimes feels like the stage runneth over in this production of John Guare’s classic, but Stiller, Falco, and Leigh bring their A-game to this slapstick tragedy.

Considering curse-filled “The Book of Mormon,” the heady racial overtones of “The Motherf— with the Hat” and Iraq War-themed “The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” this heavy theater season hasn’t been very friendly to Long Island grandmothers. One more to add is slapstick tragedy “The House of Blue Leaves” at Walter Kerr Theatre.

Set in Sunnyside, Queens, in 1965, the revivial of John Guare’s classic involves: Arnie Shaughnessy, a sad sack zookeeper who dreams of becoming a Hollywood songwriter (Ben Stiller), his downstairs neighbor/lover, Bunny (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a star-stuck trio of nuns, a deaf starlet, an unstable GI headed for Vietnam, a big-shot movie producer and Arnie’s wife, Bananas (Edie Falco), a schizophrenic confined to bed after she “tried to slash [her] wrists with spoons.” This madcap cast of characters collide in the Shaughnessy’s cramped apartment on the day Pope Paul VI visits the city.

This is quite a lot to take in for one evening of theater. And the star power of Falco, Stiller and Leigh just adds to the erratic, teeming staging; it’s hard to look beyond the lead’s recognizable faces to really let the rat-a-tat dialogue sink in. Guare’s genius just flies right by you.

That being said, it’s worth making time for this memorable production. The cast all put forth top-notch performances (Falco received a Tony nomination yesterday). There’s a reason the leads are stars — they’re pros. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you’d be supporting the future of challenging, idiosyncratic works on Broadway.

Just leave your grandma at home for this one.

Follow Dorothy Robinson on Twitter at @DorothyatMetro.

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