John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves won the five drama awards of the 1970-1971 season, including the Obie and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the Best American Play. In 1986, it was well received in a New York revival that garnered four Tony awards and an effective PBS production. Preceded by twelve produced one-act plays, Guare’s first full-length play was followed by others, including the award-winning collaborative musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971) and Six Degrees of Separation (1993). However, The House of Blue Leaves is considered by many to be his most important work, clearly revealing his characteristic ability to blend tragedy and farce.
Guare uses the comic chaos of the Shaughnessy household to call attention to the American obsession with facile success and with a value system in which the pope and movie stars are indistinguishable media gods, television is a shrine, and assassins are glorified in headlines. Middle-aged Artie, with his small talent but big dreams of writing hit songs, represents the little people who succumb to the materialistic, celebrity-worshiping American ethos and yet are trapped by the inescapable economic and domestic problems of their lives. Encouraged to revere surface fame rather than to develop inner resources, people are lured by the outwardly apparent beauty, fame, money, power of a celebrity’s success, and these qualities become the basis of their value structure. Such people are bitterly disappointed when the better life they pursue proves unattainable. A native of New York City’s Queens, Guare is aware of the problems of urban folk who dream of escaping their unalluring middle-class environment.
Guare employs farcical and absurdist action against a realistic background and a linear plot to set up a counterpoint with the desperation and unrealistic dreams of the characters’ lives. Supported by Bunny, Artie believes that the pope’s blessing and his moviemaker friend Billy Einhorn will allow him to escape a long marriage with a troubled wife to find salvation through...
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