An ominous approaching storm sets the stage for Wendy MacLeod’s “The House of Yes,” directed by Eli Clark ’07, which opens this weekend in the Off-Broadway Theater. But sound effects aren’t the only indication of the foul weather — the entire production has the urgent, often anxiety-provoking ambience of something heading toward disaster. From the first tone of the creepy xylophone music that is used as an introduction and for transitions, something feels very wrong. As it turns out, that wrong thing is very, very, very wrong.
Like, really wrong.
And, like so many things that are that degree of wrong, the action of “The House of Yes” is at the same time somehow irresistible.
Most of the plot points in MacLeod’s play revolve around issues possessing a certain inherent ability to revolt — incest, infidelity and assassination. Despite their problems, every member of the Pascal family is trying, as Marty Pascal (played by Max Broude ’07) puts it, to “be normal.”
What exactly normality entails is a harder question. In this family’s case, they miss the mark by equating their own standard of normalcy with that of the Kennedy family. The always disturbing and often hilarious attempts to do things as the Kennedys would motivates nearly every action, especially those of the appropriately-nicknamed Jackie-O Pascal (Claire Siebers ’07) and Mrs. Pascal, a delightfully vicious Tara Rodman ’07. Mrs. Pascal, often lurks among the black drapes that anchor a great set by Haley Fox ’07, orchestrating much of the action from behind the scenes, and encouraging the obsessive sexual relationship of her son Marty and his twin sister Jackie-O at the expense of her youngest son Anthony (Matthew Kozlark ’08) and Marty’s fiancee Lesly (Jocelyn Ranne ’07). Marty’s decision to bring Lesly home for Thanksgiving, introducing an outsider into the Pascal home, exposes these (literally) bloody innards of what might pass as a normal household.
At first, there are moments at which several of the performances seem overdone. However, when Mrs. Pascal comments dryly that she is just “getting dramatic,” it becomes clear life for the Pascal family is almost a play within a play. Every second is a performance, from Jackie-O’s desire to give the living room some sort of Kennedy feng shui to Mrs. Pascal’s nearly oratorical and obviously insincere pretensions toward propriety. The best moments of the play, which runs about an hour and ten minutes, are the most stylized, particularly the wonderful banter between Siebers and Rodman. That the affected nature of much of the dialogue is a directorial choice is made clear through contrast to Ranne’s consistently down-to-earth Lesly. Jackie-O’s insanity is depicted as Siebers weaves back and forth between manic childishness and smartly biting sarcasm, but the character is most effective when she seems most lucid.
The play’s dare-I-say-it necrophilic fascination with JFK’s death comes to a head in a scene between Jackie-O and Marty that will have viewers almost wishing they could tear their eyes away. By that point, the parallels between national and family tragedy have been so effectively drawn that it is unclear whether Jackie-O is playing out a fantasy of the first family, something more oedipal in its underpinnings, or just some imagining of her deeply disturbed mind. Marty sums it up neatly: “We all have our secrets.”
But not all secrets are equal, and those of “The House of Yes” are shocking enough to captivate.