The House of Yes
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
April 17, 2010
As written, Wendy MacLeod's wicked play The House of Yes is so clever it hurts. The dialogue is smart, vicious, and twisted. It makes a fun headspin of an evening at the theatre. In this production, however, some of the acting choices cheat the play of packing the punch it really deserves.
The House of Yes takes place in a wealthy family's home near Washington, D.C. on Thanksgiving during a hurricane. There is a widowed mother who blithely admits that her youthful infidelity prevents her from knowing who sired her children. Also in the house is a younger son named Anthony who dropped out of college to care for his clinically insane sister, Jackie-O. Jackie-O's twin brother Marty comes home from New York for the holiday and unexpectedly brings Lesly with him: a guileless, young woman of lesser education who works in a doughnut shop. Upon arrival, Marty announces that they are engaged, to the offended distress of his entire family. Jackie-O got her nickname because when she was young she once dressed up as Jackie Kennedy for a party... in the famous pink outfit she wore the day JFK was assassinated... adorned with blood and macaroni meant to look like brains. Jackie-O is very unstable, living in a deluded reality, and dangerously capable of violence of which she has had a long history. She has an unhealthy and territorial obsession with her brother Marty.
The actors in this production who are the most fun to watch are Tommy Heleringer as Anthony and Hilary Bettis as Lesly. As the outsiders (in this clever, cliquey house) they are the most believable and honest characters. They ground the play and their scenes together are alive and charged in every moment. It is significant that since their roles are written as the most truthful characters in the play, MacLeod has made their job a little more straightforward.
In the words of Jackie-O, the other characters think sincerity is "declassee" and that "love is for tiny people with tiny lives." That may be the reality of how the twins and their mother think as they "snip" each other to death with their rude wit. However the play would have been better served with more sincerity and love all the same. The acting choice for these characters seems to rely on the surface fakery of their moneyed world. Perhaps these characters are just too good at acting like they don't care about anything, exactly as their lines suggest. I watched them with interest and delighted in their dialogue. But I didn't feel like these could be real people or have any empathy for their tragedy.
Regardless, this brilliant play is a treat to see live. The production as a whole is very slick. Director Brandt Reiter's pacing is quick, punchy, and satisfying. The hurricane is very present throughout and I enjoyed that the scene changes are punctuated by thunder. The set is a fancy living room on one side and a bedroom with a fourposter bed on the other. While this clearly isn't a big-budget production, the design is executed with enough completeness to look as classy as the privileged circumstances of the play deserve. Though the acting direction falls short of its potential, it's still a wonderful and nasty little production, well worth saying "yes" to!