Pig's Eye's The House of Yes starts stiff but arrives with a wallop
Taking your fiancée home to meet your family for Thanksgiving should be a normal and even a happy thing to do. That is, unless you have a family like the Pascals. A hurricane howls outside as hostile Mrs. Pascal tipples, Anthony, her ineffective youngest son, obeys her orders and glamorous Jackie-O fires bursts of cruel wit while they wait for Marty and the girl to come. Even before he arrives with Lesley, you begin to realize that the weather inside the Pascal home is about as inclement as the hurricane wailing outside.
Under the direction of Suzy Messerole, Pigs Eye Theatre finds the dark heart of Wendy MacLeod's psychocomedy, The House of Yes, but it takes the early part of the first act for this production to find its stride and to fully tap the play's subversive humor.
Marty has breached an implicit rule; he has brought an outsider into his closed family. Mrs. Pascal responds to meeting thoroughly wholesome Lesley by turning her back and saying, "I'm going to baste the turkey and hide the kitchen knives."
What a great line! But as Mrs. Pascal, Karen Weise-Thompson never quite delivers her zingers with the bite that her character requires. Her Mrs. Pascal is all prickle, command and control. She's a pain in the rump, right enough, but for MacLeod's wicked humor to have full play, Mrs. Pascal needs to lash out from someplace sinister, buried deep inside her being.
Soon after Marty and Lesley arrive, the electricity goes out, and Mrs. Pascal abandons all pretence at Thanksgiving dinner. From this point on, House of Yes finds its legs and never looks back. Anthony visits Lesley in her candle-lit room, and Jackie-O manipulates her twin brother Marty's deeply embedded desire for her. She cajoles him into a re-enactment of Kennedy's assassination, a rote play they have performed since they were 13 year-olds, and that ends in seduction.
Jackie-O is obsessed with Jack Kennedy's assassination. For the re-enactment and its consequences, she even dresses in a Jacqueline Kennedy-style pink Chanel suit and pill-box hat.
The play breathes with vigor when Angie Haigh and Stacia Rice are on stage. Rice gives an extraordinary performance as unstable Jackie-O. Not only does she look somewhat like Jacqueline Onassis, but her range is terrific. She finds Jackie-O's brittleness, her sharp-as-steel tongue, her unpredictability, her seductiveness, and finally, the hurt that's as palpable as that of a damaged child.
Haigh is first-rate as likeable Lesley, an uncomplicated girl, who works as a waitress in a doughnut shop. She's eager to please, and she shines, fresh as a new-minted penny in this tarnished household. The fact that she's a waitress does not help Lesley in the eyes of the snobbish Pascals, who live in the same wealthy neighborhood as the Kennedys.
Steve Sweere plays Marty, a man who paid dearly to escape his dysfunctional family once and who reaches for normality by linking himself to sane Lesley. Sweere finesses Marty's shift nicely from being rational with Lesley to sliding back into being susceptible to his twin sister's yawning neediness. Marty's younger brother, Anthony, also flew the nest briefly to Princeton. He's a passive yet manipulative young man, well played by Mathew G. Anderson.
On Pigs Eye Theatre's shoestring budget, John Dwyer's set works with Jennifer DeGolier's lighting to cleverly combine two scenes in one on Cedar People's Center's small stage, but it does not manage to convey the family's privilege.
The play ends with such a punch that it left the opening night audience stunned for a moment.
Even as the Twin Cities lose two dynamic theaters, a groundswell of tiny theaters, doing strong work, burgeons. Last season, Fifty Foot Penguin produced a burning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I'm told I should look out for Gremlin Theatre and Starting Gate Productions, and tiny Pigs Eye Theatre proves its mettle with this production of The House of Yes.
The House of Yes runs August 22 - September 6. Thursdays through Sundays, 7:30 p.m. $12-$15. Pigs Eye Theatre, Cedar Riverside People's Center, 425, 20 th Avenue, Minneapolis. 612-362-5987.