The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The House of Blue Leaves opens with a brief prologue in which Artie Shaughnessy plays piano and sings his songs at the El Dorado Bar and Grill, talking to the theater audience as if they were the bar’s patrons. Act 1 opens in Artie’s shabby apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. As Artie snores on the couch, mumbling “Pope Ronnie,” his son Ronnie appears at the barred window, dressed in army fatigues. Ronnie reaches for keys in his father’s discarded pants, unlocks a security gate, enters the apartment, and raids the refrigerator. The doorbell rings, sending Ronnie into his room to hide.

The person at the door is Bunny Flingus, Artie’s downstairs neighbor and lover. She is cold and angry, and immediately begins lambasting Artie for failing to be prepared or excited about Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York. Artie agrees to come outside and watch the pope only if Bunny will cook for him, something she has refused to do until after they are married: “I’m not that kind of girl.”

During this exchange, Artie’s wife, Bananas, appears in a nightgown, looking ill. She watches for a while, unseen by Bunny or Artie, then returns to her room and calls out. Artie hides Bunny in the kitchen, and Bananas reemerges. True to her name, Bananas begins getting hysterical, and Artie forces a sedative into her mouth. She calms down but begs Artie to let her feel her emotions for a change. He tells about his dream in which Ronnie became pope and made Artie a saint but totally ignored his mother. This gives Artie an inspiration: he rushes to the piano and plays and sings “The Day That the Pope Came to New York.”

Artie prepares breakfast for Bananas, while she goes on all fours, barking like a dog. Bunny returns from the kitchen, insulting Bananas. Artie breaks the news to Bananas that he has found a sanatorium on Long Island, where he hopes to commit her. He describes the place in a lyrical monologue in which the play’s title is explained: On his visit to the sanatorium Artie saw a beautiful tree with blue leaves. The leaves proved to be a flock of birds.

Bunny, sensing that Artie is wavering, insists that he prove he knows the famous film director Billy Einhorn by calling him in the middle of the night. Artie does so and tells Billy that he will be coming to Hollywood with Bunny. While Bunny exits gleefully to pack for the trip, Bananas tells her own dream, and Artie catches a glimpse of the Bananas he once loved. He kneels with her in front of the pope’s image on television and asks the pontiff to heal Bananas. When Bunny returns, her joy turns to anger, for Artie...

(The entire section is 1070 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The most pervasive dramatic device in The House of Blue Leaves is the metadramatic technique of parabasis, or direct address of the audience by the characters. There are twelve distinct instances, evenly spaced throughout the play. In the prologue Artie addresses the audience as if they were patrons of the El Dorado Bar and Grill on amateur night. Early in act 1, Bananas interrupts the dialogue when she “notices” the audience and welcomes them to her home. At this, Bunny comes to the edge of the stage to confide to the audience her wish that Bananas die. Act 2, scene 1 opens with Ronnie telling his life story to the audience. Corrinna enters next, and as soon as she is alone she turns to the audience and asks them not to tell the other characters that she is deaf; at her exit, she interrupts her conversation with a nun to ask the audience to pray for her recovery from an ear operation. The scene ends with Bananas apologizing to the audience for the mess the explosion has caused. In the middle of act 2, scene 2, Artie apologizes to the audience for the way Ronnie turned out. When Bunny finally cooks for Artie and Billy, Artie again apologizes to the audience: “I wish I had spoons enough for all of you.” When Artie is occupied with the emergency call from the zoo, Bunny tells the audience how all of her wishes have come true. As the Little Nun leaves, she gives the audience her philosophy of life. The play ends with Artie once again addressing the...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Queens. Borough of New York City across the East River from Manhattan in whose Sunnyside neighborhood the Shaughnessys live. John Guare describes Queens in great detail in a foreword to the play. He imagines it as the least elegant and least proud in heritage and prestige of the five boroughs that make up New York City—a place from which to move away to the more comfortable, wealthier, and lovelier suburbs of Westchester County, New York, or Connecticut. The zookeeper and would-be songwriter Artie Shaughnessy has grandiose dreams about making his fame and riches in the music industry; to enhance both the poverty of his daily life and the ludicrous desperation driving Artie, Guare contrasts these two images in his use of Artie’s shabby Queens apartment, which lacks proper heating or any decorative, pleasing features. Artie has achieved almost nothing of note in life, as his surroundings testify.

House of Blue Leaves

House of Blue Leaves. Artie’s name for a sanatorium that he tells Bananas he has found for her. The sanatorium, he tells her, has a lovely tree with blue leaves, leaves that have blown away in the form of a flock of bluebirds to canopy another tree, leaving the first one bare.


*California. Home to the glamorous and lucrative film industry and a place where people can achieve their dreams, according to the characters in this drama. 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.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The 1970s were a tumultuous time in American history. One major reason for this was the troubled American economy. A worldwide monetary...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

A scene at the Bayliss Theatre Published by Gale Cengage

The House of the Blues Leaves is a dramatic farce set on October 4, 1965, in New York City. The play opens on...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1965: The United States increases its presence in Vietnam; in addition, bombing of North Vietnam intensifies. By the end of...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The House of Blue Leaves was filmed for television in 1987 and appeared on PBS. Directed by Kirk Browning and Jerry Zaks, this version...

(The entire section is 41 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Guare’s play, Marco Polo Sings a Solo, was first performed in 1973. The play, like The House of Blue Leaves, also deals...

(The entire section is 130 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Barnes, Clive. ‘‘Theater: John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves Opens,’’ in The New York...

(The entire section is 299 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bernstein, Samuel J. The Strands Entwined: A New Direction in American Drama. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1980. Contains a twenty-page chapter on The House of Blue Leaves, which reviews the 1971 production criticism and provides insightful analysis of the play. In Bernstein’s view, Guare effectively uses comic techniques obliquely to attack questionable values of American culture.

Guare, John. Foreword to The House of Blue Leaves. New York: New American Library, 1987. Guare briefly discusses play-related autobiographical events, including witnessing juxtaposed productions of a Strindberg drama and a Feydeau...

(The entire section is 270 words.)