Memory Lane

Two contrasting plays offer theatrical mind games

What a schizophrenic play this is -- half Strindberg, half Feydeau. Act 1 is a cruelly comic dance of death among three pathetic misfits. Artie Shaughnessy (Tom Bell) is a New York City zookeeper desperate to succeed in show business. "I'm too old to be a young talent" he cries, until it becomes litany. Artie is married to the pitiful and slightly deranged Bananas (Lynda Waters). In her lucid moments, Bananas may well be the play's conscience. But when she's not lucid, she cannot quite determine whether she's a spouse or a pet.

Then there is Bunny (Rebecca Schene), Artie's manic mistress. Bunny is so supercharged, she can turn a vial of pills into a maraca. Apart from an inflated imagination -- but then, everything about Bunny is inflated -- her primary problem would seem to be that she can't hold a job.

Although Artie's nightmarish world comes tumbling down on a specific date -- October 4, 1965, the day the pope visits the United Nations to protest the Vietnam War -- the play actually exists in a time warp. Artie's tomblike apartment might as well be his own wretched mind; that's how removed from reality these happenings are. But when, in Act 2, Artie's world is invaded by a cadre of zealous nuns, an endearingly deaf movie starlet and a would-be assassin determined to blow up the pope, these added oddballs transform mayhem into lunacy. Nothing else the prolific Guare has written even approaches the wild originality of The House of Blue Leaves.

Walter Charles, Charles H. Hyman and Matthew Cody in The Drawer Boy
J. Bruce Summers
Walter Charles, Charles H. Hyman and Matthew Cody in The Drawer Boy

Details

The Drawer Boy - By Michael Healey. Performed by the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through February 9 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road. Call 314-968-4925.

The House of Blue Leaves - By John Guare. Performed by the Curtain Call Repertory Theatre through February 2 in the Faust Park Carousel House, 15185 Olive Boulevard. Call 636-346-7707.

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The initial Off-Broadway production in 1971 took off like a house on fire -- then had to close down nine months into its sellout run when the theater burned down. Fifteen years later, an acclaimed off-Broadway revival once again focused attention on the play. Now another seventeen years have elapsed. Today The House of Blue Leaves doesn't get seen all that often, which is why the current Curtain Call Repertory Theatre production is so welcome. Director Dennis Shelton would be the first to acknowledge that his House has been mounted on a shoestring, yet this community-theater production delivers at least one surprise.

As the aptly named Bunny, Schene might well be the Energizer bunny come to life -- with a little Road Runner thrown in for good measure. Her torso seems to be attached to toothpicks rather than legs. Yet when she puts her tiny feet into motion, they whirl with the ferocity of a buzz saw. This Bunny is a force to be reckoned with. In making the most of a flamboyant role, Schene becomes the generator that charges the entire evening. Thanks to a powerhouse performance, The House of Blue Leavesstill dishes out huge portions of audacious tragicomedy.

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