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House of Yes
By Laura Hitchcock

This election year seems surreally appropriate to revisit The House of Yes, Wendy MacLeod's black comedy swathed in bloodstained pink, which became a film in 1997. The current fixation on celebrity culture makes the play even more timely, though MacLeod, remembered from the Eugene O'Neill Center's National Playwrights Conference, gives a nod in her Author's Note to the influence of Edgar Allen Poe and an urge to comment on the insularity of the upper classes.

Set in the formerly stately mansion of the Pascal family in a Washington DC suburb, the play begins when Marty brings his new fiancée, blonde ingénue Lesly, home for Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody is thankful. Not anxious virginal younger brother Anthony, not sweetly suave alcoholic Mama who hurries to the kitchen to lock up the knives, and certainly not Marty's twin sister Jackie-O, whose passions are equally divided between a role-model fixation on Jackie Kennedy and an implacable incestuous addiction to Marty. Their father mysteriously disappeared the day Jack Kennedy was murdered and the twins have acted out the Kennedy assassination ever since, with a resurrection that was never part of the Zapruder video of the real thing.

This 90-minute play astutely plumbs many emotional truths and does so without sneering at the characters. There's mysterious Mama, whose initial crime on Assassination Day, may have been the role model for the twins' behavior. There's Anthony, numbly terrified, trying to define the real world and find a place in it. There's Jackie-O, glamour with a gun, whose vulnerability and pain make her a very understandable lunatic. There's naïve Lesley, who succumbs to the madness of the house. And, finally, there's Marty, the most thinly written role, who tries to play the Man Who Got Away but can't escape his type casting.

Director Brian Drillinger finds the values inherent in the text, balancing the horror and comedy without ever toppling into camp, this play's fatal attraction. Under his direction, Michelle Danner never makes the mistake of playing Mrs. Pascal as weird or deranged. She glides through an alcoholic haze so smoothly that she seems an unlikely murderess.

Danner shares the stage with her students, professional actors all. Kinsey Packard is riveting and sophisticated as Jackie-O, finding the wretchedness beneath the manic glee, and only rarely losing vocal control of her screams. Shannon Floyd is a refreshing nymph from another world as Lesley; her performance never seems clichéd, save for a short stretch in the last act. Justin Chatwin plays Anthony as a zombie who comes to life with the arrival of Lesley. Joe Reegan does the best he can with the reclusive Marty; but as the play unreels, his character comes to life.

Joe Spangler's split-level set strikes the right balance between elegance and neglect. Alec James's sound design ends the play appropriately with that wonderful standard "The Night We Called It A Day."

Playwright: Wendy MacLeod
Director: Brian Drillinger
Cast: Kinsey Packard (Jackie-O), Justin Chatwin (Anthony), Michelle Danner (Mrs. Pascal), Joe Reegan (Marty), Shannon Floyd (Lesly).
Set Design: Joe Spangler
Lighting Design: Juliet Klanchar
Sound Design/Music Supervisor: Alec James
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: August 5-September 18, 2004
Where: Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica, Ph: (310) 392-7327
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.August 7.
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