Thanksgiving evening begins at the Pascal household. Mrs. Pascal puts the French wine on ice, Marty Pascal (Jeffrey Withers DRA ’05) picks up stray carpet debris and fluffs the white plush couch pillows. “Jackie O” Pascal (Chloe Chapin DRA ’05), the resident sociopath, makes masking tape crucifixes for the window. Castleberry will provide the cranberry sauce, Rice-a-Roni the cornmeal stuffing, and too-close-for-comfort twin siblings Marty and Jackie O will take turns playing the turkey. Indeed, standout actress Chapin fires off caustic witticisms and shameless double entendres at her brother-cum-lover Marty for the entirety of “The House of Yes” (by Wendy McLeod DRA ’87) with all the ridiculousness and burlesque of a Charlie Chaplin movie. The ridiculousness of the dialogue — and Chapin’s expert deadpan delivery — make the play a winner. Heartwarming this Thanksgiving-day tableau is not, but mordantly engaging it surely is.
The play is set outside Washington, D.C. on Nov. 22, 1983. Mrs. Pascal, Jackie, and younger Pascal-sibling Anthony sit around discussing dinner details, the Kennedy assassination and the nature of tape. Suddenly, Marty arrives with his new girlfriend, Lesly. But as soon as he introduces Lesly (Alixandra Englund ’05) as not just his girlfriend but his fiancee, Jackie lets out a bloodcurdling scream and Mrs. Pascal announces she will go hide the knives. Jackie spends the rest of the play trying to convince Marty to return to her loving (and identical-DNA) arms. She uses her various wiles to seal the deal when mere verbal persuasion doesn’t suit. When calling Lesly the “donut lady-in-waiting” because she works at a Donut King franchise doesn’t deter Marty, Jackie resorts to her next attempt — to don the post-assassination Jackie O costume she had worn to some party long ago and seductively fire blanks at Marty’s head as he sits on the couch and elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist-wrists.
The Kennedy assassination colors much of the story because it is a particular obsession of the Pascal family. When each member of the Pascal family thinks back to where he or she was at the time of the assassination, vivid memories jump to mind. For instance, for Mrs. Pascal, that fateful Friday was the day she shot her husband and used the pit in her yard that was dug by people installing central air conditioning to toss out the cadaver. Similarly, Jackie Pascal’s “Jackie O” costume — replete with pink suit jacket spattered with blood and dried macaroni noodles (“Just like his brains looked!”) and matching pillbox hat — is an essential component of Marty’s most vivid fantasy.
Their morbid fascination with this traumatizing historical event is a particular manifestation of the ennui and jadedness felt by the entire Pascal family. Jackie spends her time doped up on pills selected not for their pharmacological properties but instead for their aesthetics (“I switched from the orange ones to the blue ones so they would match my eyes. Color me beautiful!”). Anthony spends his life listlessly attempting to seduce forbidden or unsuitable fruit (such as the engaged Lesly) by pretending he’s a virgin. Marty, perhaps the most pathetic of all, has done something worse than wallowing in his Pascalian misery — he’s attempted to quick-fix it by taking up with Lesly, a poorly educated, rural Pennsylvania girl who doesn’t know what slugs are.
The story of “House of Yes” is downright depressing. The plot is merely a series of events that share the common motivation of boredom. Each character, save for Mrs. Pascal, connives, insults and uses adulterous trysts to manipulate whatever character he or she feels like sabotaging at the time. Perhaps Jackie’s actions could be explained away as motivated by an all-consuming, Catherine and Heathcliff-esque, fate-favoring love for her brother, but that doesn’t explain her shameless self-destruction or final spurning of him in the end. But the play is sharply written and will leave you in laughing-at-the-playground-reject, cruel humor-induced stitches. Happy Thanksgiving.
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