Mark Taper Forum / Los Angeles
On through 19 October

centertheatregroup.org

What a mess.  The renovated Mark Taper Forum has opened its doors, and it is far from being in working order.  While the smell of new paint and such can be very exciting, the fundamentals of the space just don’t work.  At a quarter to eight, dozens and dozens of patrons waited outside the box office windows to pick up tickets.  The queue went around the corner and the ladies running things felt no sense of urgency to move it along.  Though folks were still at Will Call come curtain time, the show started as scheduled, and for the first 30 minutes, ushers would continuously shuffle people in (my guest was even put in the wrong row) and generally disrupt the flow of the play.  Once we in the audience learned to ignore that (and the piercing feedback from the assisted listening headsets), we could become immersed in John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves.”  Well, kinda.

The scene (masterfully created by set designer, David Korins) places us in a small and cold Sunnyside Queens apartment in October of 1965.  Artie Shaugnessy (John Pankow) has harbored dreams of working as a songwriter for many years.  The closest he has come to those dreams is the city zoo and coming home to his piano at night.  His wife, Bananas (Kate Burton) has long since gone ’round the bend, and yet she remains in the house while he carries on with his new gal, Bunny Flingus (a brash, funny and commanding Jane Kaczmarek).  A bevy of other folks will traipse through the living room during the course of the play (mainly during the second act, which is decidedly more absurdest): among them, a trio of nuns, the Shaunessy boy, a deaf actress and a heartbroken director.  At its core, through some heartbreaking and hilarious exchanges, “The House of Blue Leaves” is about forsaking our known lives for the desperate promise of something more.  It doesn’t matter how comfortable we are with the worlds we know, the yearning never stops and it may often leave us stranded as we make the leap.

This is a wonderful cast, and a remarkable play.  One can only hope that it garners the attention of a theatre that has more common sense when it comes to running a venue than the “new” Mark Taper Forum.