To paraphrase Tolstoy: If all happy families are alike, dysfunctional ones make for better drama. The shattered dream of Camelot haunts the Pascal family, which disintegrates during a hurricane in a funny, chilling, though somewhat uneven, production by the Rose Theatre Company of Wendy MacLeod’s deliriously dark comedy, The House of Yes.
Monique Sleeper is winsome and winning as Jackie O., the proud owner of a replica of the pink Chanel suit that Jackie Kennedy wore on the day her husband was assassinated, including blood stains made with catsup. With her perfectly coiffed hair, seductive smile, and the privileged assurance of a First Lady, Jackie’s living out her delusions in her family’s crumbling mansion.
Director Jessie Rose has assembled a young and appealing cast that treads carefully between satire and surrealism. Though the short, choppy scenes sometimes overwhelm the fledgling theater group’s technical abilities, the cast’s energy and enthusiasm overcome the missed lighting cues and ragged transitions.
Jackie O. has just returned from a stint in a mental hospital, and while she’s not taking her meds like she should, she’s looked after with sympathetic affection by her naïve brother Anthony (Anthony J. Nelson) and her curiously detached mother, Mrs. Pascal (Sylvia Barone).
They’re excited about a visit by Jackie’s twin brother Marty (John Fletcher), who, for the first time in the family’s history, is bringing home a “friend.” The friend turns out to be Marty’s fiancée Leslie (Jessica Canter), and Jackie’s scream when she finds out serves notice that this family’s Thanksgiving celebration isn’t likely to warm the heart of Norman Rockwell.
Marty is obviously seeking to escape his family’s weirdness by marrying the wholesome Leslie, though he remains creepily enthralled by his disturbed sister. They have a much closer-than-normal relationship and it comes dangerously unraveled, especially when the siblings play their favorite game — a re-enactment of the Kennedy assassination — which springs from an unresolved family mystery: Did their father walk out on the family, or was he murdered by their mother on the day of JFK’s assassination?
Nelson emerges as the comic heart of the play as the not-quite-as-dumb-as-he-seems Anthony. In the most heart-tugging scene, he manages to seduce the confused Leslie after she discovers Marty and Jackie O. in flagrante delicto. Canter is charmingly convincing as the bubbly Leslie, who loses her moral bearings after being sucked into the family’s vortex of desire and decadence.
While Mrs. Pascal is supposed to be theatrical, Barone is too stagy and affected as the mother, who doesn’t come off as controlling and neurotic enough to have caused her children’s pathology. And Fletcher gives a one-note performance as Marty; in the final scene, he should be much more wary of his sister’s role-playing.
But The House of Yes nonetheless makes subtle satire of the privileged excesses of the wealthy classes, who never hear the word “no.” While it may have lost some of its shock value since it first appeared in 1990, MacLeod’s deranged comedy manages to be both repellant and amusing.
The House of Yes
Through May 30
The Rose Theatre Company