Obsession. Mental illness. Incest. Murder.
As the playbill says, it’s not your ordinary family Thanksgiving — though Wendy MacLeod’s The House of Yes starts out with an innocuous-enough premise: Beloved brother/son returns home, betrothed in tow, to meet the family. Bride-to-be Lesly is nervous, anxious to please. Soon-to-be groom Marty Pascal is nervous, too, apprehensive over what secrets his family might reveal to his intended. Mrs. Pascal is suspicious, doubtful that any girl could ever be good enough for her precious boy. Baby brother Anthony covets everything big brother Marty has, especially — now that he’s met her — Lesly.
And Marty’s twin sister, Jackie-O? Well, naturally she’s a little jealous that another woman dare interlope on her special relationship with her cherished brother. Except there’s really nothing natural about Jackie-O’s jealousy — or, as we quickly learn, her special relationship with Marty.
In fact, normalcy is in short supply at the Pascal residence, where, in addition to various other quirks, all the inhabitants have an unnatural fascination with the Kennedy family saga, particularly the assassination of John F.
The resulting story is sad, sick — and utterly hilarious. MacLeod’s beautifully-timed script sparkles with dark humor, and Plaeides Productions, long known for its controversial choices, does a nice job bringing it to stage.
As Jackie-O, Shannon Biggart is sharp, sexy and completely insane — at times overly so, particularly next to Jennifer Elliot’s Mrs. Pascal, who turns out to be just as nuts as her daughter. Elliot’s genteel portrayal, however, masks her character’s derangement in cool refinement — exactly the treatment Biggart should apply to Jackie-O.
Opposite Lars Clark’s Marty, though, Biggart is perfect. She is both vulnerable sister and calculating vixen, and Clark is convincing as both protective older brother and lustful ex-lover. Their sibling relationship is so believable that witnessing the lust/love tension between the two seemed to induce a little squirminess in the audience at the tiny black-box Be Be Theatre on opening night. Justin Humphrey’s Anthony is harder to place. How old, exactly, is he? And is he supposed to be crazy, too? Mildly retarded? Or the only “normal” member of the family?
As Marty’s fiancee, Lesly, Meagan Schearer doesn’t seem to know quite what to make of Anthony either, though she comes to life opposite Biggart and Clark. Poor Lesly — from her frightening, floor-length, flowered-orange polyester “evening gown” to her status as a merely marginal figure at her place of employment, the Donut King, she makes Marty’s longing for the ordinary seem sad and pathetic. No wonder Marty falls back into his glamorous twin sister’s arms.
Overall, the Plaeides performers are convincing and well up to MacLeod’s witty repartee. The Be Be Theatre offers intimate viewing, with the smell of the actors’ pancake makeup easily filling the close space. The venue’s tight seating actually complements The House of Yes, bringing the actors to within inches of the front-row seats — and amplifying the claustrophobia Marty must feel, trapped by his family’s close ties.
Unfortunately, a shabby set and rumpled, ill-fitting costumes detract from the script’s clarity and the troupe’s genuine talent. Are the Pascals authentic upper crust, just barely sub-Kennedy, as the actors portray them? Or are they a few steps lower on the social ladder, rendered pitiable through soap-operatic emulation — as Marty’s crushed khakis and the slip straps showing under Jackie-O’s little black dress would suggest?
Regardless, picking at shabby sets and peeking slip straps in community theater is distinctly gauche (as Mrs. Pascal would no doubt point out), particularly in light of the amount of entertainment Plaeides Productions offers for a mere $8 a seat.
Folks with kids should apply the money they save on entertainment toward hiring a babysitter for the evening: This is not a presentation intended for children.