films and works of literature, and borrowingsnfrom other people’s plots allnadd to his ability to get his pointsnacross while minimizing his deficienciesnas a storyteller. And, as it turnsnout, most critics have praised him fornthe bandages without noticing thenwounds.nThis formal eclecticism, however, isna disadvantage to him as a filmmakernin two important ways. First, the devicesndon’t always work: in Annie Hallnthe voice-overs add insight to the charactersnwhile moving the story along,nwhile in Hannah they are merely usednSTAGEnThe House ThatnJohn Builtnby David KaufmannIn the 1980 film Atlantic City, BurtnLancaster, portraying a has-been racketeer,nturns to a young companionnwhile they’re walking along the Boardwalknand exclaims, “You should havenseen the Atlanhc Ocean in the oldndays.” According to Louis Malle, thenfilm’s director, the producers wantednto cut that line: “They said it didn’tnmake any sense, the ocean hadn’tnchanged. Mais oui! But that was purenJohn—the way the Lancaster characternlived in the past.” (Actually, it’snpure Oscar Wilde who describes annold Confederate’s response to a fullnmoon: “You should have seen it beforenthe war.”)nThe “John” here is John Guare,nwhose screenplay for Atlantic City hasnbeen, according to received opinion,neclipsed not by any subsequent worknbut by his 1971 opus. The House ofnBlue Leaves, currently revived in NewnYork. Although the new productionnhas been welcomed as a play for allnseasons, the implicit message to thenrave reviews is that they don’t writenplays like they did in the good oldndays—15 years ago—when not onlynthe ocean, but also our theater, was.nstill something to behold. With itsnreferences to the war in Vietnam, itsnextended subplot involving an assassinationnplan, and its zany charactersnto impart information which the authornis unable or unwilling to fit intonthe dramatic context. Second, the devicesnserve as a crutch and distract himnfrom what he does best. If WoodynAllen has one tremendous talent, it’snhis ability to create memorable, enlighteningncharacters: Alvy Singer,nAnnie Hall, Leonard Zelig, DannynRose, Lou Canova, Mickey—any aspiringncomic artist would kill to be ablento create such a gallery of characters.nBut Allen feels pressed to “grow,” sonhe creates self-conscious homages tonBergman, Fellini, Shakespeare, etc.nSwoosie Kurtz in a scene from JohnnGuare’s The House of Blue Leavesnat the Vivian Beaumont Theatre atnLincoln Center.nwho seem distinctly “60’s,” The Housenof Blue Leaves already strikes us as annartifact.nEven the circumstances whichnGuare recalled some years ago to describenthe writing of the script seem tonrefer to another epoch, one which putnits trust in arcane. Eastern mythologies:n”I was writing this play and I wasncompletely lost. … All these charactersnkept growing up around me, and Indidn’t know where I was going. So inndesperation I threw the I Ching andnasked it what the play was about. ‘ThennnThe more ambihous he becomes, thenmore his films suffer.nWhen Woody Allen has trusted hisncharacters to lead us wherever theynwant to go, as in Annie Hall, StardustnMemories, and Broadway DannynRose, he has created some of the finestnfilms of the post-Hollywood period.nOne can only hope he tunes out thencritics and tunes in again to his ownncharacters.nSam Karnick is a screenwriter whonlives in Madison, Wisconsin.nfamily is the microcosm,’ it said.nEverything came into focus, I finishednthe play, and then someone told menI’d made a mistake, I’d thrown the InChing sideways or upside down—I’dngotten the wrong hexagram! . . . Butnwrong turned out right for me.”n”Right” in this case produced onenArtie Shaughnessy, a Central Parknzoo-keeper and mediocre singer whonhas dreams of making it big as ansongwriter in Hollywood. Arhe residesnin the Sunnyside section of Queens (anfamiliar habitat for Guare) with hisnwife, Bananas. Bananas went what hernnickname designates: “A year agon—two years ago today—two days agontoday? Today.” In a monologue, shenrecalls that fateful day when at thenintersection of 42nd Street and Broadwaynshe impersonated a gypsy cabdrivernand gave Cardinal Spellman, JackienKennedy, Bob Hope, and PresidentnJohnson a lift. But their “suitcases spillnopen and Jackie Kennedy’s wigs blowndown Forty-Second Street and CardinalnSpellman hits me and Johnsonnscreams and I hit him. I hit them all.nAnd then . . . [the car] blew four flatntires and sinks and I run to protect thencar. . . . And cars are honking at mento move. I push the car over the bridgenback to Queens. You’re asleep. I turnnon Johnny Carson to get my mind offnand there’s Cardinal Spellman andnBob Hope whose nose is still bleedingnand they tell the story of what happenednto them and everybody laughs.nThirty million people watch JohnnynCarson and they all laugh. At me. Atnme. I’m nobody. I knew all thosenpeople better than me. … I knowneverything about them. Why can’tnOCTOBER 1986/47n