Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The House of Yet"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The House of Yes"

By Wendy McLeod
Directed by Courtney O'Connor

Scenic Design by Mila Pavelka
Lighting Design by Brad Lowery
Costume Design by Suzanne Chesney
Sound Design by Jerome Goldstein
Assistant Director Braden LuBell
Stage Manager Lindsay Miller

Jackie-O...............Helen McElwain
Anthony.....................Ron Rittinger
Mrs. Pascal.............Kippy Goldfarb
Marty.....................Shawn Sturnick
Lesly.....................Tanya Anderson

One thing you should know is that "The House of Yes" is about an hour and a half of strange story played without an intermission. Another that should become fairly obvious fairly soon is that at least three and maybe three and a half of these characters are, to varying degrees, as mad as March hares and thus apt to say, do, and remember having done extremely peculiar things. Lastly, if (as I did) you think this play might be happier on the screen, the program notes on the playwright will tell you that it did indeed grow up to be a movie. And if you can convince yourself that the playwright thinks it screamingly funny it might save you from worrying that these people might be about to hurt themselves or each other. No actors were harmed making this production.

As the play opens there is a hurricane coming on --- and the eye of that hurricane is Helen McElwain as "Jackie-O" Pascal. She's a young woman on-the-edge --- a role Helen has played so often and so well she could patent it. This lady freely admits to madness ("I spend most of my time with my head in the toilet, puking up the medications that keep me from thinking straight."), but when the unexpected fiancee of Jackie-O's twin-brother Marty (Shawn Sturnick) insists "I don't think you're mad at all; you're just spoiled!" there is a calm, nervous pause. In that moment you can see her consider two things: Is she right about this surprisingly original diagnosis? and What can I do in the next thirty seconds to prove how very mad I am? This is, obviously, a script written with Helen McElwain in mind.

And pampering of every whim may indeed be the problem for his family who, as the title implies, never hear the word "No." Mother (Kippy Goldfarb) stalks about the house never more than six inches from a glass of bourbon blithely refusing to hear or see the obvious, bent on getting her way because she refuses to notice there is any way but her own possible. This is, after all (says the program), McLean, Virginia, around the corner from the Kennedys, it's about 1984 and Jackie-O is obsessed with re-enacting the assassination with her brother and herself as the central figures. That will give you an idea of the play's flavor, but I should give away no more details.

The reality-check figure here is Tanya Anderson's* fiancee, meeting this family for the very first time --- through whose eyes their peculiarities at first merely seem odd. And rounding out the cast is Ron Rittinger playing the kids' put-upon, ignored, sex-obsessed younger brother. His job is to tell her (and the audience) in guarded terms what's happened while Jackie-O's adored brother has been in New York, or what happens off-stage.

This cast has a delicate problem here. Comedy is often funny because the awful things (clown slips on banana-peel) can't hurt bloodless characters. But none of this play makes very much sense unless there is indeed something human at stake for the audience to empathize with. (The Restoration tragedy " 'Tis Pity She's A Whore" has a similar problem.) In that sense, what's serious here damages the humor, while it's vice-versa with the giggles. You'll have to sort out this problem for yourselves.

===Anon. * for the final two performances, this role will be played by Stephanie Birnbaum.

"The House of Yes" (23 May - 22 June)
Boston Center for The Arts, 276 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1(617) 426-ARTS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide