Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

Lydie Breeze was a turning point in John Guare’s career. It was a departure from the mixture of farce and savage satire that characterized his most successful previous works, such as Muzeeka (pr. 1967, pb. 1969) and The House of Blue Leaves (pr., pb. 1971). While Guare had always been concerned with the corruption at the heart of American culture and with the related loss of ideals, he tended to attack these issues through farcical plots, bizarre characters, and fiercely ironic dialogue. The House of Blue Leaves, for example, which remains one of his greatest critical and popular successes, partly as a result of a revival in the 1980’s, concerns a plot to blow up the pope and involves a weird collection of characters, including a zookeeper, three nuns, a film producer, and women named Bananas and Bunny. Guare acknowledges the influence of Georges Feydeau in his plotting of the play, which is a masterpiece of black comedy. Marco Polo Sings a Solo (pr. 1973, pb. 1977) and Landscape of the Body (pr. 1977, pb. 1978) make use of science fiction and the detective story, while many other plays (including Muzeeka and The House of Blue Leaves) make extensive use of song.

With his acclaimed screenplay for Louis Malle’s film Atlantic City (1981), however, Guare began to move further toward realism (though he claims that The House of Blue Leaves is a realistic play) and a tone less sardonic and more elegiac, though no less deeply ironic. The Lydie Breeze tetralogy, beginning with Lydie Breeze itself, is on a larger scale than his earlier work, with something like the epic sweep of a nineteenth century novel (a comparison Guare himself makes). Guare’s use of American history, particularly the Civil War (mentioned in Lydie Breeze but of greater importance in the other plays), gives greater scope to his themes.

Guare’s style and concerns have not undergone abrupt reversals. He is an eclectic writer whose brilliance manifests itself in his audacious mixing of dramatic modes and in the ceaseless whirl of events and characters in his plays. The sad grandeur of Lydie Breeze, however, was a new note in his work for the stage, as was the positive ending of the play. While Guare is a harsh critic of American values, Lydie Breeze indicates that he remains optimistic at least about the human potential for love and hope.

In 2000, Guare revised Lydie Breeze and Gardenia and released the revision under the title Lydie Breeze (pr. 2000, pb. 2001). He gained critical and popular success in 1990 with his release of Six Degrees of Separation, a play which refers to the scientific claim that any given individual on earth is linked genetically with another individual by a mere six steps. The play served as a social commentary on the myriad isolation of contemporary people due to class, race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other factors. Other plays from the 1990’s and early twenty-first century included Four Baboons Adoring the Sun (pr. 1992, pb. 1993), The General of Hot Desire (pr., pb. 1999), Lake Hollywood (pr. 1999, pb. 2000), and Sweet Smell of Success (pr. 2001). Most critics find that Guare has matured significantly in these plays; there is not much doubt that he has lived up to the promise of his early experimental work and is among the very best contemporary American playwrights.

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