The House of Blue Leaves

ISBN: 0573610282
ISBN 13: 9780573610288
By: John Guare

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About this book

This poignant Obie Award-winning comedy unfolds in New York City on the day the Pope is expected to visit. Hearts are palpitating in the sleepy borough of Queens, but not entirely on account of His Holiness. Bunny Flingus, a femme-fatale from Flushing (or thereabouts) is stirring things up in the quiet, unfulfilled life of aspiring songwriter Artie Shaughnessy. Artie longs to leave his unhappy marriage, elope with Bunny, and write a hit song that will top the charts.

Reader's Thoughts

Tracy Morton

I shall add Bananas to the list of characters that I would like to play. A dark comedy.

Steven Felicelli

Six Degrees of Separation is a heady, moving (if somewhat contrived) dramaeverything else Guare has done is pretty shabby in comparison


This is one of my favorite plays. It is funny, but also pretty depressingly sad. It's often described as 'dark comedy' but I think I found a sadness in it beyond the bits that are meant to be darkly funny. Bananas is a truly saddening character, and the fact at the audience is made to love her more than any of her family appear to really tugs at you, even when you're laughing over some onstage antics. This is an excellent play to read, but if you have the chance to see a production I highly recommend you do so. I've seen a few and even the crappiest really had a shine to it that I think is there, in the script, and would take more than a bad production to tarnish.

Eric Jay Sonnenschein

A number of years ago, just after 9/11, a terrible aeronautic tragedy took place. A jetliner filled to capacity with Dominican people crashed near JFK airport in an outlying neighborhood of Queens, New York. Airplane debris smoldered on streets, and peoples' homes were immolated and smashed. Such accidents occasionally occur near airports across the metro area. They are not metaphors, but tragedies.In "The House of Blue Leaves" the American dream crashes into the Queens neighborhood of Artie Shaughnessy, a luckless and desperate song-writer and zoo-keeper. Like the airliners that sometimes miss runways at adjacent airports, "The Dream" leaves many injured and few survivors.Artie has been victimized by the stochastic and brutal power of luck that, like an inverted tornado, lifts some individuals to lofty heights of honor and wealth and leaves others flat and desolate. In this instance, Fate has plucked Arnie's childhood friend, Billy Einhorn, out of obscurity while leaving Artie in the wallow of a lower-middle class Queens apartment with a depressed and erratic wife, a demented son, and a deskful of corny, tinny songs.The American Dream is so close to Artie that it shadows and torments him. It is like a life-long hangover he cannot shake or cure. He waits for its fulfillment like he waits for the animals in his zoo to finally give birth. When curtain opens on the "The House of Blue Leaves" the animal births, like the realization of Artie's dream, are in precarious balance.An aura of imminence and excruciating anticipation surrounds "The House of Blue Leaves." It is the same quotidian suspense in which we all live--will our precious, little plans go well or awry? This exquisite sensation pumps from the heart of Henry James's novella "The Beast in the Jungle", that destiny awaits us like a splendid and dangerous beast, just beyond our view.This sense of imminence in "The House of Blue Leaves" comes from external events that are historic, even mythic, in scope, yet as distant from the fates of these characters as a black hole swallowing a distant star. This is 1964 and the pope is coming to Queens. Bunny Flingus, the muse of Artie's declining middle age, is so thrilled that she is going out to meet His Holiness at 5:15 AM. Bunny is the huckster, the beater of drums, the woman who believes in luck and Hope and dreams even though she has been fired a hundred times. Bunny's imagination is so kinetic, so exciting, yet unreliable that she believes, like Ion in Plato's dialogue, that she understands medicine because she worked in a doctor's office.When such major events come to such mundane places like Queens, the displacement is enormous, the voltage intense and dangerous. Miracles, meteor showers, and divine intervention are potential. Bunny is the medium for these hopes. She will stand along the path the pope will take and be blessed by him, then transfer this blessing to Artie. Artie is skeptical, not because he is smart, but because he feels doomed. Nothing can help him.Even so, his passive melancholy is no match for Bunny's enthusiasm. When he learns that Billy, his famous friend, is coming east to research his next motion picture, Bunny convinces Artie to phone him and ask for his help. Artie phones Billy on his jet and the mogul agrees to pay a visit. Suddenly, all of the dreams are dusted off like old sheet music and Artie's future is back in business.But then Ronnie, Artie's disturbed son shows up, AWOL from the army. He is a commando on a mission to destroy the American Dream. Unlike Artie, Ronnie's dream suffered irreparable damage at a tender age. His self-esteem was aborted early enough for a dark personality to grow over it. In a brilliant, two minute monologue, Ronnie reveals how he auditioned for Billy when he was a child and how this pivotal event destroyed his life. In one of the funniest, most painful moments in theater, Ronnie suggests with insane clarity and eloquent hyperbole how the American dream explodes.Three nuns also show up. They, too, have come to participate in the pope's historic visit by viewing the event from the roof of Artie's building. They are unquestioning believers whose frustrations express themselves in so many tics and preoccupations. They, too, seem to need a miracle, some excitement,a touch of glamor, or at least a pep rally. They climb into the Shaughnessy apartment to avoid the cold. The nuns are comical figures of deprivation. The youngest nun consumes a jar of peanut butter as though it were an inexpressibly delicious alien food. The older two nuns are downtrodden but full of whacky enthusiasm and petty rivalry.In the secular world, there is no figure with more power to bestow boons than a Hollywood mogul. He is a pagan hybrid of pope and oracle, with intimate knowledge of the holy mysteries of success. But Billy has no intention of soiling his shoes on Artie's abject floorboards. He sends his fiance, Corinna Stroller, a movie star, as his emissary to Chez Shaughnessy. Corinna smiles and understands nothing. She reveals to the audience that she is deaf from an accident on the set of one of Billy's films. How apt it is that a Hollywood producer's consort is unable to hear him. Deafness might be the only protection against the hype.But even for the high and mighty there are scores to settle. As Corinna Stroller exits with the nuns, Ronnie gives her a gift for Billy. It will never reach its target. Only grief and remorse bring Billy to Artie's house. Bunny finally cooks--this is her special sexual allure--and the fates of the characters are set. Billy will return to Hollywood to make pictures that Artie and all of the "little people" will pay to see. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the U.S. of A.No one emerges from the events of "The House of Blue Leaves" better than when they came in, or even wiser. If redemption and a happy ending are what you came for, you may want to send the playwright an angry letter. What this play demonstrates more trenchantly than any other is how powerfully the culture of celebrity has pervaded American life, and how awful it feels to be a "nobody." Contrast this with the Walker Percy novel "The Movie Goer", where the protagonist walks around in post-cinematic daze, wishing life would have the special quality of a movie. Eventually he snaps out of it and sees the possibilities around him. In "The House of Blue Leaves" the animals in the zoo all give birth, but there are no other possibilities for Artie and his family of losers. Bunny Flingus cashes in her culinary chips by getting hired to cook for Billy, the Hollywood mogul. That is "as good as it gets" for these forsaken characters.The genius of "The House of Blue Leaves" is in how it acknowledges, celebrates and repudiates such a sacred tenet of American life, "the divinity of success," while never forgetting to laugh about it. This could have been "Death of a Salesman" but John Guare was having too much fun laughing at destiny and pricking these dreams, which like balloons, are empty in the middle. If life is cruel, comedy is crueler. "The House of Blue Leaves" integrates the grit of realism with a zany nihilism. Beneath the wasted lives and devastated psyches of a fairly squalid domestic scene is the cosmic laughter of the absurdist, who is unafraid to expose and explode life as it is really lived.


So I decided to read this play because first I heard that they were doing a revival on Broadway with Jennifer Jason Leigh and then I was listening to a podcast where they mentioned that John Mahoney had won a Tony in the 80s and when I looked it up it was for this play...and this all happened within a week, so I thought that's coincidence. And they had the play in University's Library where I I checked it out. I was not expecting something quite so impressionistic. I really like the author's foreword, but then never really felt that the play reached the incisiveness of that five page essay.


I was in a production of House of Blue Leaves in college (around 1990, I think). I played one of the nuns. Our guest artist for that semester was David Lander (Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley), who played the lead. What a great experience. I really love this play.

Angie Fiedler Sutton

Very bizarre play - I didn't care for it. Too odd - even for me.


I like this play. It's odd and sad and funny. another one of my "weird and beautiful" selections, I suppose. It's a little hard to just read, though. It's one of those plays which is much better on its feet and being performed than it is laying on the page.Unlike most of the other scripts on my Goodreads account, I have never been a part of a production of this. I've seen it and I've had a couple of girlfriends who have played Bananas, but not me. Maybe someday.


I hated not liking this play, but I just don't think it's held up well over the years. I didn't think it was funny, even though I knew the spots where Guare was going for laughs. I still think he's a genius, even though this one didn't do it for me.


I read this as I was revising my play from last year and I found a lot of similarities: farcical tone, monologuing, lust for some sort of fame, and from a review of the 85 production a comparison to DAY OF THE LOCUST. Really well done and fun to read.


Interesting. Kind of obscene, which I normally like, but this time it felt very upsetting. Didn't care much for the ending, though it made me laugh throughout. I read this from the perspective of a community theater company looking for plays to put on, and I felt its portrayal of mental illness wouldn't go over well.


One of my all time favs, and on my bucket list of roles to play someday.

Brandon Leighton

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I hadn't read this play, even while a theatre major in college. Though it is over forty years old, it is still relevant : The American obsession with fame is even more out of control today than it was when this play was first staged. It is a great script with well-drawn characters. I'm sorry I waited so long to read it.


I designed the costumes for our sarah lawrence production. twas awsome.


After The Six Degrees of Separation this was a major disappointment. This lack focus and narrative which is all around. Characters appear just without no apparent reason - or at least I didn't get it - and structure meanders without a point. It seems like Guare has forced a lot of his real-life experiences into the play without realizing that they don't seem to fit together. So the whole narrative feels disjointed. The characters do have they motivations - basically fame or need for an acceptance - but the play never really resolves those issues and it kind of changes directions half-way through. It starts as a dramatic comedy and turns into a chaos which works on a strindbergian dream logic where nothing makes sense. People don't act like they should, it's all about the idea which, unfortunately, is lost under the chaos. I belive I know what Guare wants to say - life's here and now, not always somewhere else - but I can't understand it emotionally through the characters. Would've liked to like this more but couldn't.

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