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Theater Review: A Very Dark, Very Well Acted Comedy For Sherman’s Season Opener

Published: April 28, 2017

SHERMAN — A well-played dark comedy is on stage at The Sherman Playhouse. Playwright John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves, under the direction of Katherine Almquist, leaves a lasting impression. While at once disturbing and amusing, the production by Sherman Players makes the audience giggle, gasp and squirm.

Dealing with mental health issues and dysfunction is a weighty challenge for a playwright and actors as they entertain. This play is brilliant in its capacity to convey anguish with humor and compassion.

Ms Almquist has the great good fortune of being blessed with a cast in which each member tackles his or her role and fully explores the undercurrent of the complicated situation, all while being funny.

Artie and Bananas Shaughnessy (played by John Fabiani and Keli Solomon) are parents to a dangerously troubled Ronnie (Alex Skye Desjardins). Their marriage is a shambles as Bananas unpredictably moves in and out of reality while Artie tries to care for her and yet yearns to make something of his life beyond the claustrophobic four walls of their shabby Queens apartment. He sings his tunes at a local bar with the desperation of someone who needs to be heard.

Artie is also carrying on with the downstairs neighbor, Bunny Flingus (Stacy-Lee Frome). Bunny is a larger-than-life personality, looking to hitch her wagon to anyone’s star, and for the moment she has Artie on the hook.

The entire play takes place on October 4, 1965, the day Pope Paul VI visited New York. This is a huge deal for Bunny and she drags everyone, including Bananas, out in the cold to witness the passing of His Holiness. The Pope’s visit attracts a group of edgy nuns (Blythe Everett, Judy Sullivan, and Jessica Gleason), who come in through Artie’s window and knock back a few beers while causing havoc.

Billy Einhorn (Rufus de Rham) is Artie’s childhood chum who has made a name in Hollywood. Artie, at Bunny’s urging, calls the revered Billy to set up a date to play his songs. In his stead, Billy’s starlet girlfriend, Corrinna Stroller (Erin Shaughnessy), makes an appearance in the apartment and charms everyone.

As the story unfolds things come together only to unhinge. Everyone operates within their own sphere, bumping and crashing into the world around them.

Other players include Adam Battelstein and Jeffrey Alan Solomon.

John Fabiani portrays a character so rich and sincere, yet so very flawed. His Artie is a simple man trying to make things right, and so fervently hoping he will, yet determined to serve his own needs. This is as vital and textured a performance as you are likely to find on any stage anywhere.

Keli Solomon’s Bananas is searing. She layers her character in such a way that the audience can imagine the woman she once was struggling beneath numbing medications, delusions, and madness. She is excellent in this role.

In a play rife with monologues and breaking the fourth wall, Alex Skye Desjardins delivers an explosive, energetic number as his Ronnie unravels in a big way.

The thoroughly obnoxious Bunny is perfectly handled by Stacy-Lee Frome, who delivers a character that is adorable as she manipulates.

Erin Shaughnessy is always subtle and elegant, as she is here as well. The remainder of the cast does well in each of their roles.

This is a fine piece of work, and director Katherine Almquist is to be commended for her striking treatment of this complex and engaging play.

Make a trip up to Sherman to spend the day with the Shaughnessys in The House of Blue Leaves. You will never forget it.

Performances continue weekends through May 14, with Friday and Saturday evening curtain, and Sunday afternoon matinees.

Tickets are $24 and can be reserved by calling 860-354-3622 or through shermanpayers.org. The website also includes directions to the theater, at 5 Route 39 North, and other information.

 

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