Occasionally, I’m not so immediately thrilled by a show. In the case of The House of Yes, it’s taken me a while to organize my thoughts around the challenges of this 25th anniversary production now playing at the Zephyr Theatre, Los Angeles, CA.
By now, it’s had a ‘life’ and will have naturally evolved. Notwithstanding the mostly deserved praise that it’s received, it has at least one definite not-so-slight, unresolved issue barring the way to perfection.
When I sat in the theatre several weeks ago on opening night, I suppose my expectation was that the experience would be a delicious, pot-boiling intrigue of black comedy. I took in the performance in its entirety and I also sorted through the actors, pulling each one outside of the play, and putting him or her back in, looking again at the cast as a whole, also observing all the elements that had a strong influence on the production.
On this night I thought, “There is some outstanding acting happening here, but this isn’t completely coming together. Why?” There were no obvious flaws per se. Wendy MacLeod’s writing certainly has none and is by no means dated. The costuming was perfectly specific minus one eye rolling [sigh], Whatever-Happened-to-Baby-Jane-like detail not worth expanding upon, and the lighting was incredibly precise, evocative and really told the story almost better at times than anything else happening on stage. Yet, the cloud of just-didn’t-hit-the-mark pervaded.
On opening night although there were a few GUFFAWs, there weren’t many WHOAs, YOWs, PHEWs, or OMGs. Not even a HUBBA HUBBA for Kate Maher who couldn’t be any more visually potent as beautiful, obsessive, menacing Jackie-O. The truth is that I wasn’t feeling seduced, on edge or stimulated. Instead, every moment was thoroughly predictable. And although the play deals with a sexual subject matter, it was strangely almost carnally clinical. The House of Yes, at that moment couldn’t seem to decide what it wanted to be.
Kate Maher (Jackie-O) played this performance as practically sexless and basically one note. For a driving lead femme fatale she had to work awfully hard to register chemistry. And Ms. Maher did work. No mistaking Ms. Maher is a loud and clear intelligent actress, extremely capable of pulling off layers, dimension and intensity well within the language of the script. But I finally realized that directionally, there was no where for her to go.
In fact, most of what I had a problem with stems from the direction and not the writing or the acting itself, which on opening night came across surprisingly boxed-in culminating with an almost zero thrill factor finale.
The House of Yes, is certainly not a show to ignore while it is still in play. It’s an appealing story. And at this point in the run, I am taking a leap by saying, they’ve probably worked out a few kinks. Actress Jeanne Syquia (Leslie) and actors Colin McGurk (Marty) and Nicholas McDonald (Anthony) put in particularly exceptional performances. They were just not as well placed as they could be, at least on opening night. For actress Eileen T’Kaye (Mrs. Pascal) there wasn’t much to do and one can only extend a “brava” for figuring out how to make her role work, most of the time.
Still, The House of Yes, beyond it’s choppy beginnings is worth the ticket.
The House of Yes — A 25th anniversary revival of the wickedly entertaining black comedy that became a cult classic indie film. As a violent hurricane swirls outside the Pascal’s Kennedy estate-adjacent home in McLean, VA, the storm of the century — brewing since JFK’s assassination — is about to erupt inside. Mrs. Pascal, daughter Jackie-O and younger son Anthony await the arrival of Jackie’s twin brother for the holiday. But when Marty brings along his new fiancée, secrets unravel and the family’s elegant veneer begins to crack. What could be funnier than love, incest and murder?
Written by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Lee Sankowich
Starring: Kate Maher, Nicholas McDonald, Colin McGurk, Jeanne Syquia, Eileen T’Kaye
Produced by Lee Sankowich and Margie Mintz
Presented by the Zephyr Theatre,
Producing Artistic Director is Lee Sankowich