Wendy MacLeod’s The House of Yes makes fun of mental illness, the Kennedy assassination, incest, emergency preparedness, adultery, premature ejaculation, nymphomania, donuts, and people who think Liebfraumilch is French. It’s terribly rude, in incredibly poor taste, and quite, quite wonderful.
It’s Thanksgiving of 1983, and a hurricane is on its way to the east coast. In McLean, Virginia, around the corner from where the Kennedys live, Mrs. Pascal (Eileen T’Kaye), the imperious and imperial matriarch of the house, sips a drink as her son Anthony (Nicholas McDonald) and daughter (Kate Maher) rearrange the furniture and tape up the windows in preparation.
Everyone’s a bit on edge, not just because of the impending storm, but also because Mrs. P’s other son Marty (Colin McGurk) is expected from New York at any minute, and he’s bringing a friend. Is it a male friend? A female? These questions are asked with a certain amount of trepidation, not to mention dread. When Marty arrives, and introduces his female guest Lesly (Jeanne Syquia) as his fiancée, his sister screams… with delight.
Perhaps this is the time to mention that Marty and his sister are twins, that everyone refers to her as Jackie O, and that she keeps – and sometimes wears – a replica of the pink Chanel suit the other Jackie O wore the day JFK was killed.
Oh, and Jackie O and Marty not only came out of the womb together (she was holding his penis), but have remained close throughout the years. Very close.
To say that every character in this play is, um, damaged in some way would be an understatement. One might label them emotionally challenged, but, since they often use the blunter word “insane,” let’s just go with that.
Which may be distressing for the characters, but very good news for theatregoers. For what it means is that, with Ms MacLeod’s clever writing, and the confident direction of Lee Sankowich, we’re in for a roller-coaster of bizarre but literate craziness.
While keeping the pace brisk, Mr. Sankowich is smart enough to give us time to think when we need it – which fortunately isn’t too often – and also has the sense not to gussy up the words with too much extraneous action. When lines are this funny, sometimes the best approach is simply to have the actors stand and deliver them. And when the actors are as good as they are here, it’s heaven.
Ms T’Kaye, with her impeccable comic timing, lands every laugh she aims for; she gets one of the bigger guffaws of the evening simply by raising her eyebrows and letting her elastic face go slack. Later in the play, looking like Gloria Swanson crossed with a gorgon, she deftly shows us the chilling other side of Mrs. Pascal.
Ms Maher undercuts her stunning good looks with more than a touch of madness, and the result is a dizzying delight: you never know whether Jackie O is going to be warm and cuddly, or explode in fury. It’s not an easy role to pull off, but Ms Maher does it expertly.
While the other roles aren’t quite as flashy, they all have their whack-job moments, and the actors acquit themselves well: Ms Syquia, as a not-terribly-bright working girl, is believable as sincerely in love with Marty, even if her way of proving it is a bit ditzy; Mr. McGurk and Mr. McDonald’s brothers-with-probably-different-fathers each project normalcy for stretches of time, only to reveal themselves as just as crazy and needy as everyone else.
The spare, elegant set by Adam Haas Hunter gives us a living room and a bedroom, both populated by empty picture frames – a leitmotif, it seems, from the designer this season, but which works. The costumes by Wendell C. Carmichael, lighting by Rebecca Raines, and sound by Norman Kern are solid and professional.
The House of Yes isn’t a new play – in fact, it’s been around for 25 years. Though it’s been done a number of times, I suspect one of the reasons it’s not become a “classic” is that its sense of humor is so quirky, so “edgy” that it can easily offend: it’s a “dangerous” play in some ways, chock-full of inconvenient secrets, and it ends with a bang.
But sometimes a little bit of danger can be good for you, and this production of The House of Yes is definitely a danger to embrace.
The House of Yes
Written by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Lee Sankowich
Through June 14
7456 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tickets: 323-960-5563 or www.plays411.com/houseofyes