Kent State to present dark comedy ‘The House of Blue Leaves’

Dara Sander

Kent State is bringing the dark comedy, “The House of Blue Leaves” to the Wright-Curtis Theatre from April 17-26.

The play will bring a mix of genres and jumping styles to keep the audience on their toes.

“As an audience member, I think you run the gamut of emotions — when you think something is straightforward, we throw something else at you and kind of shake you up a little bit,” said Jerimie Newcomb, a graduate theatre studies student and first-year Master of Fine Arts Acting Candidate. “It’s definitely going to be an exciting experience to be a part of.”

Newcomb, who plays Artie Shaugnessy, described the play as not having one specific genre because it has elements of comedy, drama, tragedy and farce.

The dark comedy centers on the idea that everyone wants to be seen, be recognized and be famous. The main character, Artie Shaugnessy, is a musician who is trying to succeed and be famous.

“That’s really all he’s wanted,” Newcomb said. “He’s burdened by his own failure and likes to shift the blame to others.”

Most of the characters in the play deal with the idea of fame and wanting to succeed. Artie’s mistress wants him to move out to California, and Artie’s son, who is in the Army, is planning to do some awful things to be famous because he feels like he’s not noticed by anybody, Newcomb said.

“The play is about desperate people, desperate to matter,” said Fabio Polanco, an associate professor in the School of Theatre and director of “The House of Blue Leaves” production. “They measure their self-worth by the number of eyes that are set upon them…The reason why that’s really relevant today, maybe even more relevant today, it’s (because “The House of Blue Leaves” playwright John) Guare was almost warning us where we were headed and we’re there.”

This idea of self-worth of fame from the play is enacted in the media everyday.

“We literally talk about value being measured this way like when we talk about how many followers somebody has on Twitter, and that has become a commodity,” Polanco said. “…If you have someone who has more followers than another person, is more valuable than the person who has less.”

As a society, people can see that play out in peoples’ lives.

“I think that we as people can feel that way — we feel like we look for our self-worth to come to us externally as opposed to internally,” Polanco said. “These people definitely see their self-worth through the eyes of other people; they show us how destructive that really can be.”

The two main actors said they worked hard to understand and act as their characters.

“I really had to work so hard so I was doing justice to the character,” Bailey Maholm, a freshman theatre studies major who plays the main character Bananas Shaugnessy.

Maholm said it was exciting to be cast because she’s only a freshman and never expected it.

“I think my favorite part (of playing Bananas) is that even though she is supposed to have this mental illness, she’s always completely there,” Maholm said. “She’s really super smart and because she’s super smart, she can be kind of sarcastic and sassy, and I love that about her. It keeps her from being a depressed person with a mental illness.”

Newcomb described Artie as one of the most challenging roles that he’s ever had the opportunity to play.

“He’s so dynamic. He runs the spectrum of emotion, and the journey that he goes on is so complete,” Newcomb said. “They (the characters) go from excitement and happiness to depression and sadness and anger, just everything. He’s really a complex and complete character.

Maholm said the audience can expect to laugh, as there are funny moments as well as expect to cry because it is possible to become emotionally attached to some of the characters.

Polanco said he hopes that the audience enjoys themselves, and they think a little bit about what our relationship is to fame and celebrity and how it fits into our society.

“The House of Blue Leaves” premieres April 17 at 8 p.m. in the Wright-Curtis Theatre in the Performing Arts Center.

Contact Dara Sander at [email protected]