LIBERTY – Fifty-four years ago on Oct. 4, Pope Paul VI visited New York City and held a Mass at Yankee Stadium. For playwright John Guare, that fateful day is the backdrop for his play, “The House of Blue Leaves.” This weekend, it comes to William Jewell College.
The actors of Jewell Theatre Company’s fall play, under the direction of Dr. Chris McCoy, began with a short discussion from a psychological sciences professor sharing views and treatment of mental health and illnesses in the 1960s.
“The play looks at who is sane and who is crazy within this world of capitalism, dreaming and more,” he said.
Jaimeson Satterfield plays main character Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper who aspires to more.
“He wants to become a great songwriter in Hollywood,” he said. “Unfortunately, he’s bad, but he blames his shortcomings on his wife Bananas.”
Terrace Wyatt Jr. plays the antithesis to Artie. He’s a friend named Billy Einhorn, a big-time filmmaker who seems to have all the trappings of success, but lacks a happy private life.
Coming in as the third male is James Hobbs, playing Artie’s son Ronnie.
“He’s a lot like his father,” Hobbs said. “He was an aspiring child star, but is convinced the world is persecuting him. He doesn’t have the talent so instead, he plans to kill the Pope to gain that fame.”
While sanity and mental illness plays a silent role, Artie’s wife Bananas does deal with manic episodes.
“While Bananas definitely is not the woman he fell in love with, there’s a love that came from the past, but he sees a future with his girlfriend Bunny,” Satterfield said.
During the rehearsals, the actors have learned the words are at the surface, but the subtext is substantial.
“We have been collecting the seeds to this deeper story that gravitates to a dark comedy with emotional depth,” McCoy said.
Satterfield said the audience needs to listen to the dialogue because what may seem conversational, there are deep thought processes.
There are six excitable nuns with over-the-top personalities. Three of the nuns have dialogue – the novice, Little Nun, played by Erin Watts; the Head Nun, played by Paige Wright; and Second Nun, played by Lauren Szala.
“The nuns clearly believe the Pope coming to New York is what they are searching for,” Watts said. “I feel like we are comic relief.
Wright said the nuns believe seeing him in person will prove their faith.
“My character is sassy and challenges the head nun,” Szala said. “She even talks about boys.”
McCoy said the dark comedy explores what the American Dream means to each person in the midst of history and change.