Carter Hayden and Karen Knox set up House.
Early on in Wendy MacLeod’s absurd, dark comedy The House Of Yes, the mother divulges that when she gave birth to her twins, her daughter’s hand was holding her son’s penis. To say the siblings have remained close throughout the years is an understatement. Their relationship is central in a story that uses humour – sometimes too forcefully – to examine dysfunction, obsession and mental illness.
The play takes place over Thanksgiving weekend in a rich suburb of Washington, DC, during a hurricane. Marty Pascal (Carter Hayden) returns home to visit his upper-crust family: twin sister Jacqueline who imitates the former First Lady and goes by Jackie-O (Joanne Kelly), quirky younger brother Anthony (Jakob Ehman), and the family matriarch they call Mother (Joy Tanner).
Marty shows up with his new fiancée, Lesly (Karen Knox), a pretty young woman who works in a donut shop. Lesly’s arrival sends Jackie-O, recently released from a psychiatric hospital, into a tailspin, and their engagement announcement unleashes a torrent of ugly emotions and secrets.
MacLeod’s script specializes in witty zingers delivered by strong female characters, but it gets bogged down in melodrama that undermines the play’s weighty issues. The comedy is broad but the characters shallow, which creates challenges for the actors.
Kelly’s high-strung Jackie-O maintains the same emotional pitch throughout, making the character feel one-dimensional. Tanner finds herself in the same trap but has the advantage of some of the play’s funniest lines. Lesly’s struggle against the Pascal family’s bizarre dynamic is the most interesting part of the play.
Director Benjamin Blais keeps transitions swift and uses the hurricane for comedic effect, with many scenes ending in a flourish of thunder and lightening. To further evoke the hurricane, scenographer Claire Hill hangs translucent gold strips from the ceiling and blows them with an electric fan, but they’re distracting and resemble prom decorations gone wrong. Kudos to her clever set, though, which rotates like a gigantic Lazy Susan and functions beautifully in the small space.
The House Of Yes is a comedy with real tragedy at its core. This production would be better served by less focus on the humour and more on its heart.