If you like your house decorated with dysfunction, madness, incest, and heightened dialogue, come visit The House of Yes.
Let’s start with the play. Wendy Macleod’s look at a destructive domicile is not a new play written just for Fringe. In fact it is two decades old and was made into an independent film that received some buzz at the film festivals in 1997 and seen here in a notable production in 2007. (Where was I? I have no recollection of the play or film at all.)
Macleod’s play works like a cross between Harold Pinter and John Guare. The playwright considers the play an example of “a suburban Jacobean tragedy,” and I would say that is an apt description. But it is more than a little bit dark comedy as well, and it works as both. With Jacobean style – whose hallmarks are cynicism and violence while looking at moral corruption – the play takes a nuclear family of privilege and twists them into a macabre menagerie of despicable creatures who feed off of each other in the most alarming ways.
In The House of Yes, we meet a family, living in affluent McLean, Virginia, right next to a compound owned by the Kennedys, whose members have never been said no to. Placing the Pascal family next to the Kennedy’s is no mistake. The less famous family uses the Kennedy clan as a barometer for how to conduct their own lives, to a certain extent. The big difference is the Pascals do not live in the public eye and live according to their own set of free spirited and even dangerous rules.
The matriarch, Mrs. Pascal – played with a haughty archness by Claire Schoonover – can barely keep herself together, let alone her diverse offspring. About her children and parenting in general, her assessment is simple: “This one has blue eyes and that one’s insane.” Mother of the Year she is not. She even has to ask if things she says sound motherly.
Her younger son, Anthony, has dropped out of Princeton to return home to take care of older sister Jackie. Ben Ribler handles Anthony’s awkwardness with ease, and shows a greater complexity as the play develops. Anthony may not be the insane one, but there is still time for him to catch up.
The House of Yes
Written by Wendy Macleod
Details and tickets
Anthony’s older brother Marty – and Jackie’s twin – has escaped the Pascal house to get a taste of normal life and has taken as his fiancee Lesly, a waitress at a Donut King in the city. “She smells of powdered sugar,” Marty declares to his mother. Mrs. Pascal’s response is men have little affairs with girls who smell like that, but don’t marry them.
Marty is played with a subdued charm and sexiness by Jared Mason Murray. These qualities come in handy as he plays opposite the actresses who play both his fiancee and his sister, respectively.
As the normal and sweet fish-out-of-water girlfriend, Moriah Whiteman gives Lesly a grounded sense to being in this sea of sharks and vipers. Whiteman’s clarity as an actress brings empathy to the role, making an observer almost feel like she is standing in for one of us.
Last but not least, we come to Jackie, or more correctly “Jackie-O,” Marty’s twin sister. Played with a delicious, demonic streak and a classy vibe, Michelle Polera makes Jackie-O. fit her like a tailored glove.
Based on what we see, it is Jackie-O.’s world and everyone else just lives in it at her whimsy – or they get shot like Marty. Jackie-O, we discover, may be the most obsessed with the Kennedy clan, and I will give you one guess to determine which one. It seems at some point before she was sent off to a mental hospital for a psychotic break, the female twin attended an Ides of March party costumed as – you guessed it! – Jackie Kennedy, complete with Chanel suit and pill-box hat. Her party wardrobe was enhanced by blood splatter and simulated brains, portraying the widow of JFK moments after a gunman (or two) pulled the fatal trigger in Dallas.
Jackie-O’s costume also plays an integral part in a dangerous, disgusting game between sister and brother that is an extension of their very close relationship. Remember, this is a house of “yes,” and not even their mother ever told Jackie and Marty the word no. Mrs. Pascal recalls the moment they were delivered. “All I know for sure is that Jackie and Marty belong to each other. Jackie’s hand was holding Marty’s penis when they came out of the womb.”
Into this world of costumes, sibling coupling, and cocktails, Lesly tries to rescue her fiance Marty, and Anthony tries to become a man, while Jackie-O, straight out of the asylum, continues her reign as the queen bee. Theirs is a world tinged with darkness and The Holistic Experience (THE) Theatre Company handles the nuanced madness with skill and an eye for detail.
The bold script by Wendy Macleod deserves to be seen and discussed. Say “yes” to The House of Yes.
The House of Yes . By Wendy Macleod . Directed by Strother Gaines . Featuring Michelle Polera, Ben Ribler, Moriah Whiteman, Jared Mason Murray, and Claire Schoonover . Lighting and costumes: Phillip De Costa . Production manager: Derek David . Stage manager: Quoc Tran . Produced by THE Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.