Off The Wall Productions, adhering to the well-worn meaning of such a phrase, offers Wendy MacLeod’s much acclaimed , often-produced (even as a movie) The House of Yes. Evidently the 85 minute family drama, rummaging around in dysfunction, is often billed as a dark comedy and perceived as savagely satirical.
This performance, directed by Robyne Parrish, mostly seems to take itself literally and seriously, rather than as comedy, as if such absurdity could be real. That is, except for the opening which is executed, incongruously, as a stylized dance and chatter routine. I found the rest played believably but without enough interior personality to compensate for puppet-like characters.
At the Pascal home, Mom prepares to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, awaiting the return of her prodigal son Marty and not yet approved girlfriend Lesly. Marty’s twin sister, known as Jackie-O, is the fruit and nuts course. She has often fallen off the reality wagon and subsists on a diet of soap operas and channeling John F. Kennedy’s widow. While their younger brother Anthony seems to be stable, he hungers for Lesly’s thighs and breasts. Early on, we served up the info that Marty and Jackie have connected again post-umbillically and that she can’t wait for another helping. The most pungent ingredient is Jackie O’s fondness for re-creating Kennedy’s widow at the moment of assassination, complete with costume and brain-spattered bloody skirt.
The dialogue waltzes around these conditions, without much verbal originality. But, as far as other movement goes, director Parrish keeps the pace lively as if to make sure that what these people do and say becomes relentless rather than allowing pauses for reflection.
Lauren Michaels has the most challenging role, Jackie. Craziness is seldom easy to play and fortunately she never goes too far overboard, making Jackie seem hopelessly pathetic despite a constant grin. Justin Mohr’s Marty seems in no way a mirror image. And, although there are Marty’s own off-center moments, Mohr plays everything without specific definition. On the other hand, Erica Cuenca as Lesly, written as simple and not too bright, gives her neither quality and, instead, offers Cuenca’s standard, albeit appealing sweetness. John Steffenauer’s sincere interpretation of Anthony works but he makes the character not the least as comic as he could be. And Virginia Wall Gruenert rounds out the cast as Mrs. Pascal, subtly understating her as a hovering dark presence watching over her cuckoo nest.
I suspect that playwright MacLeod’s underpinning for the whole thing is the unending national obsession with the Kennedy assassination. Yes, it seems a theme worth exploring. Yes, you may be able to see what potential lurks within the concept, even if this take doesn’t get near enough.
The House of Yes remains through December 17th at Off the Wall Productions
147 N. Main Street, Washington PA 724/873 3576 or 412/394-3353. www.insideoffthewall.com