The House of Yes is a smart, sharp black comedy — not particularly deep, but with some uneasy currents creeping beneath the surface. It's an excellent pick for Equinox, which went largely under the radar with the three theater pieces it produced last year and is now looking for greater visibility.
The year is 1983, and as the play opens, we meet an upper-crust Washington, D.C., family who once lived next door to the Kennedys and remain obsessed with them. The father left the household on the day Jack Kennedy was assassinated — or perhaps, as the mother later suggests, there's a more sinister reason for his disappearance. A hurricane seethes outside. The daughter, who calls herself Jackie O, is waiting with her younger brother, Anthony, for the arrival of her twin, Marty, and his girlfriend. It doesn't take long for us to realize that Jackie O and Marty have a longstanding incestuous relationship, twisted through and through with their indelible images of the day of the assassination and powered by Jackie O's obsession with violence and the grotesque. Also that Marty's girlfriend, Lesly, isn't exactly welcome in the house — not by Jackie O and her weirdly protective mother, anyway. Out-of-it little brother Anthony will come to find Lesly's warm normalcy very appealing, however, and normalcy is the thing most at risk in this Addams Family household.
The few problems with this production stem primarily from the tight budget. Although the empty picture frames and puzzle-piece shapes scattered on the dark walls are intriguing, the set simply doesn't look like the once-grand mansion of a wealthy family. This matters more than it otherwise might, because this is a play about class as well as madness: Playwright Wendy MacLeod has said her intention was in part to explore the "insularity of the upper classes," the blind arrogance of people who have never been told no. When the family attempts to attribute Jackie O's rages to her mental instability, Lesly — who works at a Donut King and, according to her fiancé, smells sweetly of powdered sugar — responds quietly that the girl's just spoiled.
The House of Yes
Presented by Equinox Theatre Company through March 27, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 720-984-0781, www.equinoxtheatredenver.com.
The performances are all good, though, and a few are better than good. I fell in love with Lindsey Christian — whom I swear I've never seen on a Denver stage before — from her very first words. She has a lightness and charm that make you empathize with Jackie O even as you assess her behavior as unforgivable — and then the depth of a temper tantrum shakes you back into revulsion. Brandon Stiller is another standout as poor, muted Anthony, so unskilled at negotiating the world, so crude in his longing for Lesly and sex. Although the script doesn't give him a whole lot to work with, Anthony Bianco's Marty is in many ways the emotional center of the play. Jill Tafel is smooth as vicious Mrs. Pascal; the character has some of the most unexpectedly funny lines of the evening, and Tafel delivers them impeccably. But I do think she could have found a way to show a bit more of the demented love for her children that motivates her actions: The woman may be a monster, but even monsters have their reasons. Maggie Tisdale's Lesly is warm and kind, but she, too, could have more complexity.
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Still, The House of Yes makes for a very entertaining evening, and it's wonderful to encounter a new cadre of fresh and talented actors. Equinox has announced its presence with style.