Michael Donahue may be making his Providence Players directorial debut with “The House of Blue Leaves,” which opens this weekend, but he had a 16-year career in professional theater before joining the local community theater group.
Donahue has a master’s degree in theater directing and worked as an artistic director in a career that spanned from 1984 to 2000. He took a hiatus from theater to raise his three daughters, but still dabbled in theater work. He signed on with Providence Players in 2009 as an actor and continued to work both on the stage and behind the scenes.
His experience with the Providence Players sparked a renewed commitment to theater, and now the most recent entry in the ample list of productions he’s led will be “The House of Blue Leaves,” his directorial debut with the Providence Players.
Donahue says he has “a rich theatrical imagination,” and “The House of Blue Leaves” gives him plenty of fuel for that imagination. The play, written in the mid-’60s by John Guare, is often described as black comedy. “The House of Blue Leaves” finds dark humor in the desire for fame, with farcical elements courtesy of the offbeat characters who seek it.
Bronx Zoo worker Artie Shaughnessy, played by Adam Downs, has dreams of film-composing fame and hopes that a blessing from the Pope, who’s visiting New York City, will propel him to songwriting stardom. But he has to deal with a mistress keenly eager to start a Hollywood life with him (Bunny Flingus, played by Jayne Victor), a schizophrenic wife (Bananas, played by Beth Whitehead), and an AWOL son with murderous desires on the run from military police (Ronnie Shaughnessy, played by Andrew Rampy).
“He populates it with all these rich characters with rich language,” Donahue said of the piece, citing Guare’s love for theater, evidenced by the writing, as a reason for wanting to direct this play. Beyond the characters and their dialog are the preposterous circumstances these figures find themselves in – think car chases and the like.
These elements of the script became the platform for Donahue’s vision of the play, with music that functions as commentary on the show and visual elements to give presence to the madness of the characters.
It’s a layered approach to staging the play, and Donahue hopes that his production will give audiences something to laugh about, and something to talk about.
“By the end, hopefully they’ll walk out and say ‘OK… I didn’t see that coming, and can we talk about it?’”
“The House of Blue Leaves” runs March 14 – 29. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. on March 16 and 23. The play will be performed at The James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $17 for students and seniors. For more information, visit providenceplayers.org.