Places: The House of Blue Leaves

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1971

First produced: 1971

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: October 4, 1965

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Queens

*Queens. House of Blue Leaves, TheBorough of New York City across the East River from Manhattan in whose Sunnyside neighborhood the Shaughnessys live. John Guare describes Queens in great detail in a foreword to the play. He imagines it as the least elegant and least proud in heritage and prestige of the five boroughs that make up New York City–a place from which to move away to the more comfortable, wealthier, and lovelier suburbs of Westchester County, New York, or Connecticut. The zookeeper and would-be songwriter Artie Shaughnessy has grandiose dreams about making his fame and riches in the music industry; to enhance both the poverty of his daily life and the ludicrous desperation driving Artie, Guare contrasts these two images in his use of Artie’s shabby Queens apartment, which lacks proper heating or any decorative, pleasing features. Artie has achieved almost nothing of note in life, as his surroundings testify.

House of Blue Leaves

House of Blue Leaves. Artie’s name for a sanatorium that he tells Bananas he has found for her. The sanatorium, he tells her, has a lovely tree with blue leaves, leaves that have blown away in the form of a flock of bluebirds to canopy another tree, leaving the first one bare.


*California. Home to the glamorous and lucrative film industry and a place where people can achieve their dreams, according to the characters in this drama. Guare uses the comic chaos of the Shaughnessy household to call attention to the American obsession with facile success and with a value system in which the pope and movie stars are indistinguishable media gods, television is a shrine, and assassins are glorified in headlines.

BibliographyBernstein, Samuel J. The Strands Entwined: A New Direction in American Drama. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1980. Contains a twenty-page chapter on The House of Blue Leaves, which reviews the 1971 production criticism and provides insightful analysis of the play. In Bernstein’s view, Guare effectively uses comic techniques obliquely to attack questionable values of American culture.Guare, John. Foreword to The House of Blue Leaves. New York: New American Library, 1987. Guare briefly discusses play-related autobiographical events, including witnessing juxtaposed productions of a Strindberg drama and a Feydeau farce and conceiving the tragic comic structure of The House of Blue Leaves. In a preceding preface he compares the play’s decade-separated openings.Harrop, John. “Ibsen Translated by Lewis Carroll: The Theatre of John Guare.” New Theatre Quarterly 3, no. 10 (May, 1987): 150-154. An overview of Guare’s plays perceives The House of Blue Leaves as an exploration of the national obsession with facile success. Immediately following Harrop’s interview with Guare (155-159) is an extensive checklist including chronology, succinct synopses, and bibliography (160-177).Kolin, Philip, ed. American Playwrights Since 1945: A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism, and Performance. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. Includes Don B. Wilmeth’s helpfully detailed chapter on Guare, which includes a production history and criticism of The House of Blue Leaves. An extensive bibliography of secondary sources includes published reviews of the play.Marranca, Bonnie, and Gautam Dasgupta. American Playwrights: A Critical Survey. Vol. 1. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981. Guare and his major work are thoughtfully discussed in an eleven-page chapter. The House of Blue Leaves is viewed as a play as much about human failure as about the ironies of fate.
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