(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What happens in the lives of the family of a middle-aged zookeeper, Artie Shaughnessy, in Queens, New York, on October 4, 1965—the day of the Roman Catholic pope’s journey through Queens—is the result of an explosive combination of a lifetime of dreams and realities. Blending historical and personal events, Guare describes the play in his introduction as “a blur of many years that pulled together under the umbrella of the Pope’s visit.”

Based on Guare’s father (who referred to his Wall Street job as a “zoo”), Artie comes home from his job to an untidy house. At home, he devotes his time to playing and singing corny jingles that he has written, with dreams of Hollywood success constantly on his mind. His household consists of his insane wife, Bananas; his mistress, Bunny Flingus, who lives in the apartment below; and his eighteen-year-old son, Ronnie, currently a serviceman stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Artie, with the knowledge of Bunny, is in the process of making arrangements to put Bananas into an asylum. Ronnie arrives, unnoticed, with a box of explosives intended for the pope but which, in the course of the play’s manic action, go off accidentally, killing three visitors, two nuns, and a visiting Hollywood actress. Ronnie, Bunny, and three visiting nuns maneuver to get as near the pope as they can, each for personal reasons. Among the frenetic events and images of the play, one of the most hilarious is that of the...

(The entire section is 493 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Zookeeper and would-be songwriter Artie Shaughnessy plays and sings to unreceptive, jeering patrons of El Dorado Bar on amateur night. Afterward, in his cluttered apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, he sleeps on the living-room couch, dreaming aloud that his son Ronnie comes to New York as pope. Meanwhile, Ronnie, dressed in Army fatigues, surreptitiously climbs through the unlocked window into his old bedroom. Artie’s dream is interrupted by the arrival of his neighbor and lover, Bunny Flingus, who excitedly admonishes him to get dressed so they can attend the pope’s motorcade outside and secure the pope’s blessing on their union and on Artie’s music, which will ensure their marriage and a Hollywood songwriting career. Artie agrees to get dressed on the condition that Bunny cook for him, but she refuses, denying him her cuisine (although not her bed) until their wedding.

As they talk, Artie’s sickly wife, Bananas, enters in nightclothes; she, remaining unnoticed, then returns to her room and cries out. She returns to the room, hysterical, and becomes calmer after Artie forces sedatives down her, while Bunny hides in the kitchen. Artie then feeds Bananas, who behaves like a puppy. Bunny emerges from the kitchen and confronts Artie about divorce. Artie tells Bananas that he has found for her a sanatorium. He describes a lovely tree there, with blue leaves, leaves that blew away in the form of a flock of bluebirds to canopy another tree, leaving the first one bare.

Sensing Artie’s indecision, Bunny insists that he call his old friend Billy Einhorn, the famous Hollywood moviemaker. Challenged, Artie telephones Billy to tell him that he will be going to Hollywood with Bunny, a woman he first met in a steam bath. As a cheerful Bunny leaves to pack for Hollywood, a depressed Bananas is persuaded by Artie to go with him to see the pope for healing. They leave, taking Artie’s sheet music to be blessed as well.

Ronnie, left alone, sneaks out of his room, cradling a large box that contains a homemade bomb. He delivers a monologue about the ways his...

(The entire section is 853 words.)