John Guare (gwar) excels at writing plays that combine Strindbergian domestic dramas, savage farce, autobiography, and a sense of the ridiculous. He was born in Queens, a borough of New York City, to parents he would later describe as “very bright, very unhappy people,” who frequently left him alone. He turned to writing plays at the age of eleven as a way to lessen his sense of isolation. He maintained this interest by going to the theater weekly and listening to recordings of musicals, his favorite form. He was educated in Catholic schools, receiving a B.A. from Georgetown University in 1961. He then went to Yale University, from which he graduated in 1963 with an M.F.A. Yet he was dissatisfied with the emphasis placed on writing traditional plays with a logical structure. While Guare was in the Air Force reserve, he rejected Catholicism. He spent the next years as a reader for a London publishing house; in the spring of 1965, he hitchhiked through Europe. During all this time, Guare was working on one-act plays, the mode with which he felt most comfortable.
Guare’s one-act plays foreshadow both the thematic concerns and the stylistic approach of his later work. The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year is an absurd but touching play about two lonely people who choose to be murdered by the man’s wife rather than be separated. Guare wrote Muzeeka when he was involved in the Vietnam War protest movement. The protagonist, Jack Argue, stabs himself in order to avoid coming home to a job in a cesspool company after serving in the war. The play is an attack not so much on the war as on the superficiality of the American media, which celebrate brutality and violence. The play received an Obie Award, given to Off-Broadway productions.
In Guare’s next play, Cop-Out, which earned him an Obie for “Most Promising Playwright,” he alternates between presenting a love story between two protesters and illustrating episodes from the life of a policeman. With this juxtaposition of two styles and stories, Guare suggests that police brutality is a result of the media-created image. All of Guare’s one-act plays have a “macabre cartoonlike quality,” which also marks his full-length works.
The House of Blue Leaves, which won for Guare the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best American play, is one of Guare’s best-known plays. It had a successful New York revival in 1986. The principal characters have great depth and humanity, and the plot is more coherent than in many of his other works. Guare attacks Catholicism and “show biz” for promoting “dreams and phony promises.” The action takes place on the day the pope visits New York. Artie Shaughnessy, a middle-aged zookeeper, wants to commit Bananas, his insane wife, so that he can go to Hollywood with his mistress and become a songwriter. Each of the characters is so entrapped in his or her own desires for success that...
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