Sunday, December 14, 2008

"House of Blue Leaves" author John Guare Delights the House at A.C.T.

Yesterday morning at 10 a.m. several hundred die hard theater fans filled the Geary Theatre to experience the presence of the fabled playwright, John Guare. Guare is most famous for his plays The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, and Landscape of the Body. His style is witty, funny, and often cruel and startling.

In the foreword to a collection of Guare's plays, film director Louis Malle writes:

Guare practices a humor that is synonymous with lucidity, exploding genre and clich├ęs, taking us to the core of human suffering: the awareness of corruption in our own bodies, death circling in. We try to fight it all by creating various mythologies, and it is Guare's peculiar aptitude for exposing these grandiose lies of ours that makes his work so magical.
The experience yesterday was quite an event to witness. The poor moderator, Michael Paller, who happens to be A.C.T.s Dramaturg and Director of Humanities, barely was able to utter a syllable. Mr. Guare began interviewing himself and never stopped. He spoke with a lucidity and sense of humor that I've rarely seen in any human, let alone a man in his 70s. The only time Mr. Paller was able to actually ask a question was the one time Mr. Guare suddenly had a tinge of guilt for talking so much and the next time when Mr. Guare momentarily lost his train of thought. Beyond that it was all Guare, all the time. And that was fine with me. He is funny! He is thoroughly interesting to listen to. I could have listened to this man for hours and hours. We heard stories of his rise in the New York theatre, his unlikely meeting of Jerome Robins, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. We heard about his start at Cafe Cino with other budding playwrights and artists such as Al Pacino, Bernadette Peters and Sam Shepard. All the stories were told with humor wonderful detail.

I took away a few good lessons from the hour long lecture:

1. Do what you love in life. Mr. Guare said that is father once told him, "son, never work for a living". His father worked on Wall Street and told a young John that the only time he ever felt at peace was the interval of time from when he hit his alarm's snooze button to the moment his feet hit the floor in the morning. His father was a wage slave and he warned John to never become one himself.

2. Take charge of your own artistic life. A woman in the audience asked how young people, such as those in the M.F.A. program at A.CT. could find a life in the theatre. Mr Guare quickly responded that one must take charge of one's own artistic life. He said a theatre company need only be a group of theatre artists who laugh at the same jokes. Like at the Cafe Cino, all you need is an audience and a few cubic feet of space.

3. Remember that all acting is for the audience. Mr. Guare cannot stand plays that seem to ignore the existence of the audience. He emphasized the need to include the audience. It's why his characters often break the fourth wall and why they sometimes spontaneously break into song. Bring them to you and involve them fully no matter how large or small the space.

4. Trust your subconscious. Mr. Guare spends time every day just walking along the beach and allowing himself to free associate. It's how he came up with solving the problem of his play (1974) Rich and Famous. Allow your mind to do it's work. Trust your artistic impulse. Relax.

So go see Mr. Guares updated version of Rich and Famous at A.C.T. ! I have a feeling it will be a great show. The cast is marvelous.


First major revival
Rich and Famous
by John Guare
Directed by John Rando

Playwright Bing Ringling yearns to savor the sweet taste of celebrity, and he's hoping play number 844 will be his lucky break. But on opening night, Bing slips into a nightmarish phantasmagoria that shows him just how wrong things can go. From the ingenious mind of John Guare, who brought Six Degrees of Separation and The House of Blue Leaves to the American stage, Rich and Famous springs to life with twisted humor, rapid-fire dialogue, and outrageous new songs freshly scribed by Guare himself. A.C.T. welcomes this newly revised, delicious dark comedy-directed by John Rando (A.C.T.'s Urinetown, The Musical)-in its first major revival since its 1976 New York debut.

Cast: Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Stephen DeRosa, Gregory Wallace

Creative Team: Scott Bradley (set designer), Laura Burton (musical director and performance pianist), Gregory Gale (costume designer), Jeremy Lee (sound designer), Alexander Nichols (light designer)

Tickets: $14-$57 previews; $17-$71 Tue.-Fri. & Sun. evenings; $22-$82 Sat. evenings and weekend matinees. Tickets are available through A.C.T. Ticket Services, 405 Geary Street at Mason, 415.749.2228, and online at

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