UWEC presents “The House of Blue Leaves”

UW-Eau Claire students and faculty present “The House of Blue Leaves”

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
December 8, 2021

Photo by Gabbie Henn

The Set of House of Blues was made from scratch between the performers and crew members.

There’s a place for people who imagine themselves to be animals; it’s a place with trees that grow blue leaves.

The Broadway-performed hit “The House of Blue Leaves” will be coming to the Pablo Center at the Confluence this week, featuring a UW-Eau Claire cast and crew.

“The play is about failed dreams and how funny people are clinging to them and how they don’t enjoy life in front of them,” said Jennifer Chapman, associate professor of theater arts and coordinator of theater education.

It features Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper with big songwriting dreams; his mentally ill wife, Bananas; their son in the Army, Ronnie; his assassination plots; Pope VI; three nuns; a girlfriend named Bunny and hopes for the Pope’s blessing for salvation over defeats in life.

In college, Chapman said she became passionate about this play, appreciating how it is well-written, funny and, yet, alarming.

“It’s nice to return to a script that I had a relationship with when I was a young person and return to it as an older person,” Chapman said. “It is the funniest play you’ll ever see, but it’s also sad and deeply disturbing.”

Reanna Madson, a second-year comprehensive theater arts student, who plays Artie’s wife, Bananas Shaughnessy, in “The House of Blue Leaves,” said although there is dark comedy in the show, it mimics reality.

“It’s a play that was made in the 1960s, but it’s really relevant today,” Madson said. “It’s about life. It’s really funny, and it has these dark moments, but I feel that’s how life is.”

Practicing and preparing for the performances of “The House of Blue Leaves” was a significant educational experience as well, Madson said.

She and other Blugolds had to learn the accents and master the art of storytelling, she said.

Ronald Faleta, a second-year theater arts student who is also the set-dresser and assistant props master for the play, said he worked with Curtis Phillips, an associate professor of scenic design at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, to highlight the theme and story of “The House of Blue Leaves” from a design Phillips created.

“You have the walls and all the main things that go on stage and then I come in and bring out the little details,” Faleta said. “The idea … for the set is ‘delayed decisions’… so Curtis and I worked really hard to bring out those themes.”

With the building of the Pablo Center, Chapman said students have been given a new place to perform, but they have also recognized there are high expectations for their shows.

“Opening night doesn’t change,” Chapman said. “Not that they didn’t before, but our students feel the weight of that pressure because the community expects that now in Pablo.”

Chapman said one of the reasons Blugolds benefit from participating in plays like “The House of Blue Leaves” is they are prepared for life beyond college.

Although not all members of the cast and crew pursue theater after college, she said they all gain leadership skills and the ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently.

“We’re all many parts of one whole production,” Chapman said. “It’s a large group of students working together to make a single project happen. There’s no small role in theater.”

Tickets for performances of “The House of Blue Leaves” can be purchased online or at the door for $10 for UW-Eau Claire students and faculty and $22 for regular-price admission.

Shows began last week but will continue into this week. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Jamf Theatre at the Pablo Center.

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]