Full disclosure – I went to Heathcliff Entertainment’s production of The House of Yes (written by Wendy MacLeod and directed by Brandt Reiter) full of anticipation. The movie of the same name (based on MacLeod’s play) had long been my litmus test; if someone loved the film as much as I did, then I knew we’d be friends. If someone didn’t get it . . . well, let’s just say we didn’t exchange holiday cards after that.
So seeing one of my favorite movies in its original form on stage was, I knew, going to be great fun for me. And this production, starring Jonathan Blakeley as Marty, Tommy Heleringer as Anthony, Marcia Everitt as Mrs. Pascal, Zoë Swenson as Jackie-O, and Hilary Bettis as Lesly lived up to my expectations and more. Still, this is a story with a lot of bite so before you go I suggest you arrive prepared. (Don’t worry, no spoilers ahead).
The story itself is a simple one, really. On a dark and stormy Thanksgiving night Marty (Blakeley) is coming home to his family home in Washington DC to introduce his new girlfriend, Lesly (Bettis) and announce their engagement. Eagerly awaiting his return is younger brother Anthony (Heleringer) who’s a bit uncomfortable in his own skin, eccentric mother Mrs. Pascal (Marcia Everitt) who floats through the family home as though she’s vacationing in it, and bizarre, tilted, crazy twin-of-Marty: Jackie-O (Swenson) who is prone to fits, can be giddy to the point of madness, and who is waiting for Marty with a devotion that outshines the rest of her family put together.
When Marty arrives his normalcy next to this bag of nuts makes him seem like Marilyn Munster next to Herman and Lily – at least at first. Marty struggles against the insanity of his childhood home the way a salmon struggles against the current in order to spawn upstream. On a positive note, Marty does actually succeed for a while in bringing his New York city life back home with him in a protective bubble. His love for his bride-to-be is admirable; Lesly is nothing like this group and her innocence and naivety is refreshing (both to him and to the audience). Lesly comes from humble beginnings, hails from the great state of Pennsylvania, and met Marty when she waited on him in the local donut shop. Despite Jackie-O’s rapid fire insults (most of which fly, at least initially, over Lesly’s head) Marty holds Lesly up as exactly the type of woman he’s glad he found. She’s the perfect one for him, or so he’d have everyone think. Not everyone is so sure.
The story gets interesting when the storm creates a power outage in the house and, with Mrs. Pascal not interested in even attempting to continue the evening, everyone retreats to different corners of the house. It is only then, when characters deal one on one, that little breadcrumbs of history are dropped onto the path of this crooked family story. Who was Marty’s last girlfried who he never speaks of? What happened in the past that made Jackie-O go crazy? What’s with the Kennedy obsession? And just exactly how deep does this family bond run?
When all is revealed it’s like the crack of a whip and the curious games, odd traditions, and barely-kept secrets all come tumbling toward you in a mad rush. This is one hell of a family.
Director Brandt Reiter does a wonderful job of leading this cast through a script that can only be seen as a gift to actors. Each scene is so full of crisp, dense, biting dialogue that it might be tempting to speed up the pace and deliver this jewel in a rapid fire method just to show off; the way some piansists will rush a great concerto to show they never drop a note. But Reiter keeps the pacing just right and that allows the wonderful ensemble to bring these scenes to life in a way that builds to the climactic end.
While all the actors were top notch I most enjoyed the nuances of Ms. Swenson’s performance and Ms. Bettis’ performance. Ms. Swenson made sure to play Jackie-O in a way that merely hinted at crazy, rather than bringing the hysteria out full blown. In fact, by seeing Jackie-O as a grounded girl made her acts of irrationality all the more eerie and frightening. Ms. Bettis instilled Lesly with a sweet veneer of foolishness but nevery idiocy. Lesly may not have been exposed to everything that others her age have seen, but she’s determined to learn as much as she can from each new thing she’s exposed to, and that makes her charming and vulnerable in this house of jaded characters.
It was a wonderful expereince for me to see this great favorite brought to me, and seeing this live version showed me several new things I hadn’t seen before. So, by all means, say “yes” to this house, and get your ticket to the strangest family reunion you’ll ever be a part of.
~~~The House of Yes
Written by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Brandt Reiter
380 Broadway – 4th Floor
April 15-May 2, 2010
Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at www.theatermania.com, or by calling 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111