Ben Stiller On Broadway: My Review

Categories: Theater

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Not since my last date with a sadomasochist have I been so desperate to leave a show at intermission, only to cheer so loudly at the very end.

Yes, the David Cromer-directed revival of John Guare's 1966 black comedy The House of Blue Leaves is that kind of schizo experience.

For the absurdist play to work, you have to feel empathy for its assortment of oddballs in Sunnyside, Queens, all overreacting as the pope sweeps into town.

But in Act One, the production drives you away from any connection with them.

Ben Stiller is a zookeeper/songwriter, but his real zoo is at home, where his wife is deeply depressed (Edie Falco, sans makeup, stares into space and overdoes the catatonia) and his girlfriend prattles on like crazy (Jennifer Jason Leigh overplays the chirpiness while using a weird character voice that's really hard to take).

I know the gloom is a directorial choice, but where is the charm?

The tone is wrong -- distancing, unpleasant, not funny enough.

Even the set is tilted -- literally -- to hammer home just how whacked-out these people are.

But ever the gent, I stuck it out, thinking, "At least I'm indoors."

Then came Act Two, with its fourth-wall-breaking (the audience becomes a character) and way zanier shenanigans involving a deaf actress, a bomb scare, and some beer-guzzling nuns.

And the production finally gives in to just the right tone of endearing lunacy!

It clicks. It provokes. It entertains. It disturbs.

Stiller may not seem low-level enough for his character, but he does well with it, especially when singing a cheesy knockoff of a popular tune without even realizing its origin.

And as my initial horror with this show dissolved, I had no more boos for Blue's clues.

Maybe just second-act this one?

P.S.: This makes three shows in 10 days with wacky nuns. There was the cursing addict nun of High, the hip-swiveling, disco-dancing nuns of Sister Act, and now this bunch of whack jobs (though admittedly it was written way ahead of the trend, when the idea was truly subversive).

If I never see a cute nun again onstage -- or in life -- I'll feel much closer to heaven.


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5 comments
Bri_ein
Bri_ein

this is nun sense! (just kidding)

Bigokiefun
Bigokiefun

Maybe he'll make enough here to take that screeching old man off the tv-his father!That old man is more annoying than the Billy Bass wall mounted singing fish commercials were! he's like an aisle at Duane Reade at Halloween...you avoid it because you don't want all the motion sensor screeching monsters to start up as you walk by!Hell, I AVOID those drug stores during the reign of terror of those Halloween chotchkes!Thank God I'll die long before he is old enough to sound that pinched!

Melinda9
Melinda9

I can't imagine Jennifer Jason Leigh in a comedy. She's not even that good at drama.

Bwayjoe
Bwayjoe

So agreed! wanted to leave halfway but glad I didn't.

Ovaltine
Ovaltine

I love that photo. Looks like Ben's head was pasted on someone else's body.

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