The story brings together three wildly disparate things, John Guare's black comedy The House of Blue Leaves, Pope Francis in Rome, and a theatre artist named Quentin Edwards.
Edwards and his mother, Gwen Edwards, founded the tiny State of the Arts Productions theatre troupe, which performs at various venues in Columbus, OH, just two years ago. In that time the troupe had done mainly musicals, including 110 in the Shade and Caroline, Or Change, but Gwen said that her son's interest in mental health issues led him to schedule a production of The House of Blue Leaves for Sept. 24-27 of this year.
But Edwards will never see the play he scheduled. The young Baldwin-Wallace College graduate, a musical theatre major, suffered from the rare Alport syndrome that affects the kidneys. He died July 5, 2014, but his grieving mother said she decided to take over running the company and to go ahead with the production to help “keep his dream alive.”
The House of Blue Leaves is about the dysfunctional Shaughnessy family of Queens, NY. The play is set in 1955, on the day an earlier pope, Pope Paul VI, visited America, and his motorcade happens to pass directly beneath the Shaughnessys’ window, an event that changes all their lives.
Jump ahead six decades. Noting that another pope, Pope Francis, is planning to visit America this month— Sept. 22-27 to be exact— Playbill.com contacted stock and amateur rights company Samuel French to see if, by chance, any theatre groups in New York were planning to do House of Blue Leaves during His Holiness’ visit. None in New York or in the Pope's other stop, Philadelphia, we were told. However, the one and only theatre group in the United States planning to do the play about the Pope’s visit during the Pope’s visit was— you’re probably already ahead of the story by now— State of the Arts Productions in Columbus, OH.
"We set our season last year, so it was a total coincidence," said Gwen Edwards. When she heard about the timing of the pope's visit, she said, "Whoa! I don't believe this." She said she hopes the coincidence will "increase the level of interest in our play."
"Do Something About It"
State of the Arts Productions specializes in productions that use non-traditional casting. Her son had tried to break into professional theatre in New York but had returned to Columbus owing to his illness. She said he was dismayed at the lack of diversity in the local theatres there and had decided, at her urging, to "do something about it."
Now, she said, "I'm trying to keep the company going for him. He was such a strong kid; he had a kidney replacement and two hip replacements as a result of the anti-rejection medicine. The doctors said 'You'll never dance again,' but theatre was his life, ever since he was little."
Her son was to have directed House of Blue Leaves. Instead, it will be staged by African-American director Sehri Wickliffe. The company has two more shows scheduled this season: Children of Eden in April 2016 and Blues for an Alabama Sky in fall 2016.
By another remarkable coincidence that Guare, also author of Six Degrees of Separation, would appreciate, Edwards was a fellow Baldwin-Wallace graduate along with Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the young man who suffered a fatal fall from his mother's fire escape early Aug. 29.
Tickets for The House of Blue Leaves are now on sale on at www.soartspro.com, or by calling (614) 266-4562.