- The House of Yes
- By Wendy MacLeod
- Directed by Colin Hovde
- Produced by Washington Shakespeare Company
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The House of Yes is by a significant margin the scariest show I have seen on stage this year. It is not a dark comedy, as some suggest, or a comedy at all. It is a horror show. It is much the same as Ripley Scott’s classic horror movie Alien, except that in the movie an animal bursts out of some poor guy’s stomach. What happens in House of Yes is much worse.
On the surface, The House of Yes seems to be a fish-out-of-water sitcom in which Leslie, the normal girlfriend (elisha efua bartels) of normal guy Marty (Jason Stiles), meets her boyfriend’s wacky family. Shades of the Munsters! Sure, the sister, Jackie-O (Sara Barker) seems to have an unusual fixation on the National First Widow. And, not to put too fine a point on it, she has just been released from a mental hospital. And also she seems to have a sexual obsession with Marty, her twin. And their dreadful, disturbing mother (Wendy Wilmer) encourages this obsession. (“She came out of the womb holding his penis,” she announces, blithely, to Leslie five minutes after introductions.) And their little brother Anthony (Jay Hardee), a 23-year-old Princeton dropout with an emotional age of about 8 immediately begins stalking Leslie as though he were a 50-year-old man in a raincoat.
Is this play creepy? My God, yes! And Director Colin Hovde and his cast layer on the creepiness with a trowel. Barker’s Jackie-O sprays out her brittle dialogue as though she were on speed. For Wilmer’s mother, valium may have been the drug of choice; her contemptuous drawl perfectly matches the character’s ugly, self-satisfied vagueness. Hardee as Anthony is antsy and whiny both, a great pesthole of annoyance who seems not only to be stalking Leslie but the entire audience as well. The production’s exquisite repulsiveness appears to carry out the intention of the playwright perfectly. This is its great blessing and great curse.
Drama and comedy both share one great principal: the audience sees itself at the bottom of the characters, however exaggerated or ridiculous those characters might be. When done well, both forms give us insight into our own personalities, and our own flaws. The best drama – Death of a Salesman, for example, or the recent Kennedy Center production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – also gives us catharsis, and in watching Willy Loman or George and Martha stagger through the blighted dimensions of their souls, we confront our own moral landscapes.
The audience most likely to share a moral landscape with the characters in House of Yes are currently in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas and are thus unlikely to attend the Clark Street Playhouse anytime soon. While I am a mighty sinner, I share none of the gruesome moral predicates which motivate these horrible people, and I doubt you do either. Even Leslie, who is the closest thing to a decent human being on stage, is at best horribly naïve and may actually be an enabler. When she recites the everyday pleasures of Sunday morning in New York, it seems less to fortify her lover against his ghastly family than to remind herself that there is somewhere else to go.
Without the ability to identify with the characters, we are compelled simply to watch, passive and uninvested, as we might watch a pack of jackals tear each other up over the corpse of a dead animal. The element of spectacle is advanced by the high quality of the performances (although Hardee does add a note of sexual ambiguity to his character which is not justified by the text) and some excellent production values, including especially Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting. This is, of course, what we expect from a good horror movie, but frankly I expect more from theater.
- Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission)
- When: Sunday, Dec 16, Thursday, Dec 20, Saturday, Dec 22, Friday, Dec 28, Sunday, Dec 30, Thursday, Jan 3, Saturday, Jan 5, Friday, Jan 11, and Sunday, Jan 13, all at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 15 and 22, and January 12, and Sunday, December 23 and January 6, all at 2 p.m.
- Where: Clark Street Playhouse, 601 S. Clark Street, Arlington, VA.
- Tickets: Thursday $25. Friday and Sunday $30, Saturday evening $35, Saturday afternoons, pay what you can. You may purchase tickets by calling 1.800.494.TIXS or at the website,
- Information and directions: Call 703.418.4808 or go to the website.