For Ben Stiller, 'House Of Blue Leaves' Is Home In 1986, Stiller made his professional debut as the son in John Guare's play, The House of Blue Leaves. Now, 25 years later, he's grown into the role of the dad. He stars in the dark comedy about celebrity obsession and the quest for fame with fellow A-listers Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
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For Ben Stiller, 'House Of Blue Leaves' Is Home

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For Ben Stiller, 'House Of Blue Leaves' Is Home

For Ben Stiller, 'House Of Blue Leaves' Is Home

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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New York City police officers have had to set up barriers near Broadway stages lately. They need to do that to control crowds that want to catch a glimpse of Hollywood stars now appearing on stage. They include names like Kiefer Sutherland, Daniel Radcliffe and Chris Rock. And tonight, you can add three more names to the list: Edie Falco, Ben Stiller and Jennifer Jason Leigh. All are in a revival of John Guare's play "The House of Blue Leaves."

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: "The House of Blue Leaves" is set in a cluttered Queens apartment in 1965, the day that Pope Paul VI visited New York. And that apartment, over the course of the play, becomes even more cluttered with celebrity-obsessed people and celebrities. It's kind of a stylistic rollercoaster ride - hurtling from farce to tragedy, back and forth, in the blink of an eye.

Actress Edie Falco says that kind of emotional whiplash is what attracted her to the play.

Ms. EDIE FALCO (Actor): I like that you don't know what you're feeling. You don't know what you should be feeling, what you're expected to feel, and your feelings are sometimes contradictory. And I think that's great.

(Soundbite of stage play, "The House of Blue Leaves")

Mr. CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT (Actor): (as Ronnie) Pop, pop. I'm going.

Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (as Artie Shaughnessy) Ronnie, Corinna, this is the boy. He's been down at Fort Dix, studying to be a general.

Mr. ABBOTT: (as Ronnie) Pop. I'm going to blow up the pope.

Mr. STILLER: (as Artie Shaughnessy) See how nice you look, with your hair all cut.

Mr. ABBOTT: (as Ronnie) Pop, I'm going to blow up the pope and when Time interviews me tonight, I won't even mention you. I'll say I was an orphan.

LUNDEN: All the characters in "The House of Blue Leaves" are desperate to be noticed - so much so that they often turn directly to the audience and speak to them, says playwright John Guare.

Mr. JOHN GUARE (Playwright, "House of Blue Leaves"): Every character, when they turn to the audience, turns to the audience because they assume that the play is about them - and that the audience is only interested in them, and they're not hearing any other character but them.

LUNDEN: At one point in the first act, Edie Falco's character - the appropriately named Bananas - tells the audience about a dream she had, where she was driving on 42nd Street and saw Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Cardinal Spellman and Bob Hope, all trying to hail cabs.

(Soundbite of stage play, "The House of Blue Leaves")

Ms. FALCO: (as Bananas Shaughnessy) I run over to President Johnson, grab him by the arm. Get in. I pulled Jackie Kennedy into my car. John-John, who I didn't see, starts crying, and Jackie hits me. So I hit her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FALCO: (Bananas Shaughnessy) I grab Bob Hope, I push Cardinal Spellman into the backseat, crying and laughing. Get in. I'll take you where you want to go. Give me your suitcases. Suitcases spill open. Jackie Kennedy's wigs blow down 42nd Street. Cardinal Spellman hits me. Johnson screams, and I hit him. I hit them all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUNDEN: It's not just Bananas who has dreams of a brush with celebrity. Banana's husband, Artie Shaughnessy, played by Ben Stiller, is a zookeeper who's also a wannabe Hollywood songwriter. And Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays Artie's mistress, Bunny, says her character will do anything to get him there.

Ms. JENNIFER JASON LEIGH (Actor): She believes it's all coming their way. She really believes in the pope's visit. She really believes in miracles. She really believes in the religion of Hollywood.

LUNDEN: Director David Cromer says playwright John Guare commented to him that "The House of Blue Leaves" explores the flipside of those Hollywood fantasies.

Mr. DAVID CROMER (Director): You know, there's all these show business stories about follow your dreams. What are your dreams? Follow your dreams. You know, you have "Fame" or, you know, "High School Musical." Or, you know, just any of this stuff to be noticed, and it's glamorized. And their dreams come true and they're rewarded, and you're supposed to follow your dreams. But what about the people whose dreams crush them - is what he said the other day. What about people whose dreams are the wrong dream - the wrong dream for them, or isn't going to happen?

(Soundbite of stage play, "The House of Blue Leaves")

Mr. STILLER: (as Artie Shaughnessy) Look at that house at the highest part of all Los Angeles.

Ms. LEIGH (Actor): (as Bunny Flingus) It's Bel Air. I know Bel Air. I mean, I don't know Bel Air, but I mean, I know Bel Air. Let's get out of here. She gives me the weeping willies.

Ms. FALCO: (Bananas Shaughnessy) Oh, no. I'm all right. I was just thinking how lucky we all are - you going off to California, me going off to the loony bin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUNDEN: Ben Stiller knows "The House of Blue Leaves" backwards and forwards, since he was a little kid. His mother, Anne Meara, played Bunny in the original off-Broadway production 40 years ago, and she sometimes brought him along to rehearsals. Playwright John Guare says back then, he and Ben Stiller acted together in a home movie.

Mr. GUARE: Ben is 5 years old, and he's in a little overcoat and a little suit and a little bow tie. He's perfectly dressed, like a little businessman. The movie is - is he has a copy of the script, and he's going through it, demanding changes. And I'm there with my pencil saying, yes, Mr. Stiller. Yes, Mr. Stiller. Yes, Mr. Stiller - little realizing that that would be a very prescient moment.

Mr. STILLER: The play and John Guare have always been a part of our lives, really.

LUNDEN: Ben Stiller made his professional debut as Artie's son, Ronnie, in the Lincoln Center Theatre revival in 1986. Now, he's playing Artie. Stiller says he thinks audiences can relate to the middle-aged character, with his hopes and disappointments.

Mr. STILLER: Artie's fear that he's too old to be a young talent and that, you know, he has to do something with his life - these are his peak years. Anybody in their 40s, I think, has that feeling - where you start to go, OK. This is it. I've got, you know, a lot of my life behind me already. What's ahead of me? What dreams haven't I realized?

(Soundbite of stage play, "The House of Blue Leaves")

Mr. STILLER: (as Artie Shaughnessy) I'm here. I got to love my music.

(Singing) I'm here with bells on, ringing out how I feel. Bop. I'll ring. I'll roar. Rap-pop-pop-pop-bop. I'll sing. I'm cool.

I'm amazed at how the play has aged so well because it feels to me like now, it's more relevant than when he first wrote it - this culture that we're in now, this celebrity culture and reality television world.

LUNDEN: And audiences can have a brush with celebrity themselves when Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Edie Falco open in "The House of Blue Leaves" on Broadway tonight.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

INSKEEP: See pictures and video clips from "The House of Blue Leaves" at

There's another classic enjoying a revival on Broadway right now: Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." And even if you can't make the show, you can see some of the stars in action.

Actors Santino Fontana and David Furr have created a video series for It features them as their characters from the play, but the words they're speaking are not from the play. The words are from MTV's "Jersey Shore."

(Soundbite of video, "Jersey Shore Gone Wilde")

Mr. SANTINO FONTANA (Actor): (as Algernon Moncrieff) There's no way I'm going to Jersey without my hair gel. I can't leave without my gel.

Mr. DAVID FURR (Actor): (as Jack Earnest Worthing) I'm not even touching one dish, because I cooked a crazy meal, and she's got the nerve to tell me to clean my plate. You know what? You are excluded from dinner, then. From now on, you are excluded from Surf and Turf Night. You are excluded from Ravioli Night. You are excluded from Chicken Cutlet Night.

Mr. FONTANA: (as Algernon Moncrieff) Hater Juice is best served cold.

INSKEEP: And everything seems so much more important when delivered in an English accent.

Santino Fontana and David Furr, from their video series "Jersey Shore Gone Wilde" - spelled, of course, W-I-L-D-E.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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