A play like John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves, ” Shattered Globe Theatre’s fifteenth season opener, shouldn’t work but it does. Regarding one second-rate songwriter’s attempt to institutionalize his demented wife, run away with his mistress and make it in Hollywood, the play and its ability to somehow straddle the emotional worlds of the loony and the lyrical, as well as to make the viewer forget that they’re actually laughing at the expense of both the mentally ill and the misguided working-class, is something to be admired if not easily enjoyed. So it’s a compliment to director Ann Filmer that her well-cast, well-paced and worthy revival of this thirty-five year-old tragicomedy allows one to not only laugh carelessly but also to think carefully. I was convinced of this in the play’s final moment, and it’s a spoiler. In Guare’s original script, the husband, Artie, emotionally paralyzed from the disillusionment of his broken dreams, squeezes the breath out of his wife Bananas’ throat as she “smiles radiantly at him” and while “soft piano music plays.” In Filmer’s production, Bananas valiantly struggles to no avail, and the silence of the music-less moment is deafening. At once Bananas, more so than Artie, becomes the best exemplifier of Guare’s timeless concern with wasted human potential—a theme that he would also later explore in the more famous “Six Degrees of Separation”—and is transformed from a hilariously pathetic symbol into a haunting tragic character with the will to live despite the emotional isolation that life has dealt her. This is still a funny yet also a surprisingly darker production of “The House of Blue Leaves” than I would have ever expected, and it’s also emotionally richer for it. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000. Thu – Sat 8pm/Sun 3pm. $26-$35. Through Mar 5.