'House of Leaves' spoils dreams
Posted Sept. 22, 2006
Kelly Rivas
Bunny Flingus, main character Artie’s girlfriend played by Tanya Wilkins, tries to drag his wife, Bananas, played by Jessica Swapp, away from the piano. “The House of Blue Leaves,” directed by Melody Rahbari, was performed Sept. 14, 15 and 16 on the Dailey Theatre’s Mainstage.

The University of La Verne’s Department of Theatre Arts’ presentation of “The House of Blue Leaves,” a play by John Guare, was a creative, thrilling and surprising show.

Running for three nights, Sept. 14, 15 and 16, audience members giggled with laughter and gasped in shock at more than one wildly animated scene.

The play, set in Sunnyside Queens, N.Y., held a running theme about desires and dreams, as each character longed for something that was not quite within his or her grasp.

The main character, Artie Shaughnessy, wished for fame, while his demented wife, Bananas, dreamt about the love they once shared.

Enthusiastic Bunny, Artie’s girlfriend, wanted to live the high life in Hollywood, and vengeful Ronnie craved the positive attention denied to him as a child.

Both Shaughnessy, a simple zookeeper who wrote and performed his own music played by Kris Bicknell and Bunny, his unstable wife played by Tanya Wilkins, constantly mentioned Artie’s childhood friend Billy Einhorn, played by Michael Frederick.

In the play, Billy has moved to Hollywood, becoming a famous director and giving Artie and Bunny hope that they, too, will become stars.
But Artie must first free himself of Bananas, played by Jessica Swapp, before he can run away with Bunny and pursue his dreams.

As each character’s role became more pronounced, the problems between them rose to the surface and were only more strained when Billy’s girlfriend Corrina Stroller, played by Nicki Jo Brandt, stopped to visit the Shaughnessy family.

It was easy to relate to many of the characters, despite their highly expressive facial movements and overly exaggerated body gestures.
A sophomore theater major, Swapp said she enjoyed the performance and that her character was someone she thought most people could relate to.

?Maria Villalpando
In ULV’s theater production of “The House of Blue Leaves,” Bananas, played by Jessica Swapp, is the neurotic wife of Artie, played by Kris Bicknell. Bananas is desperate for attention, while Bunny, his inspiring girlfriend played by Tanya Wilkins, and Artie are ready to escape to Hollywood to jump-start Artie’s musical career. The couple hopes to follow in the footsteps of Artie’s best friend Billy Einhorn, played by Michael Frederick, who has moved to Hollywood to achieve stardom as a movie director. The play showcases the reality of dreams.

“I loved every moment of working on this production,” Swapp said. “We had to make the relationships between the characters real and work on when to be real and when to be extreme. I like to think we all have a little Bananas in us. All she wants is love from one person.”

Seanette Garcia, a junior photojournalism major, also played a character with a comedic turn.

Her part as the nun obsessed with peanut butter provided many laughs for the audience.

Garcia said this role was new for her, but that she thoroughly enjoyed it.
“Getting to wreak havoc as the comic relief was one of my favorite parts,” Garcia said. “I knew this character was going to be really excited in an ‘oh my gosh’ way throughout the performance so I had an idea of how to play her.”

The original script was dropped and a new one picked up with only six weeks before show time.

Having rehearsed since June for a completely different play, the cast and
crew were turned on their heads when they were told, due to unattainable production rights, that they would have to choose and learn an entirely new play.

“This production was like a phoenix rising out of the ashes,” Swapp said. “We were supposed to do ‘Judas Iscariot,’ but we had to stop everything and pick a new one.”

Melody Rahbari, a junior theater arts major who was able to both direct and star as one of the nuns in the production, said she had to start all over on such short notice.

“It seemed as if this production would never come to be because we had a different play chosen in May but we found out at the end of June that we couldn’t obtain the rights to it,” Rahbari said. “So I freaked out, of course. I read about 40 plays, found ‘The House of Blue Leaves’ and realized it was the one.”

The hard work of the cast and crew paid off with the debut of “The House of Blue Leaves.”

Audience members genuinely loved the performance.

Sonya Renee, a 17-year-old visitor from San Diego, said she was surprised at how well the play was performed.

“The play was so funny. It was full of such personality,” Renee said.

“It was definitely worth it to go see and it was very well done for a college production,” she added.

Rahbari said she was worried the performance would suffer but that she had faith in her cast and crew.

“I felt the pressure, of course,” Rahbari said.

“We had only six weeks and only $200 to make it happen, but I enjoyed the production very much; everyone did great,” she added.

For more information on the theater department and its upcoming schedule, visit www.ulv.edu/theatre or call (909) 593-3511, Ext. 4552.

Lilia Cabello can be reached at lcabello@ulv.edu.

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