‘The House of Yes,’ opening on Maui Friday, revels in black comedy
In the Police song “Born in the ’50s,” Sting sings, “My mother cried when President Kennedy died.” I wasn’t born yet but clearly remember both of my parents sharing how that day changed their lives, and mentality, on the 20th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in November of 1983. “The House of Yes” is a home where little is judged nor denied in this black comedy set on a stormy Thanksgiving night in 1983.
The black comedy genre used to be relatively commonplace but may be unfamiliar to some. Black comedies seek uncomfortable laughter from the cannibalism of “Eating Raoul” and world annihilation in “Dr. Strangelove” as Slim Pickens rides a nuclear bomb dropping toward its Russian target like a bucking bronco as “We’ll Meet Again” plays juxtaposed to the imagery of mushroom clouds. In the case of “The House of Yes,” it has been described as an obsidian-black comedy.
The Pascal household does not need to appease any all-American norms, regardless of their close proximity to Washington, D.C., and its social circles. “It’s in some medical journal somewhere,” says Mrs. Pascal (Jennifer Rose) to Lesly (Patty Silva) regarding the taboo nature of the birth of her fraternal twins Jackie-O (Hoku Pavao) and Marty (John Williams). In the 1997 film version, a child version of Jackie-O re-enacts Jackie Kennedy’s 1961 televised White House tour as Marty films. Camelot has a profound effect on this wealthy, eccentric family, as the disappearance of their father coincided with the assassination of President Kennedy on the night of Nov. 22. A grown Jackie-O recounts a childhood Halloween costume of a pink pant suit with a pill-box hat, dyed with red stains and glued-on macaroni to convey brain bits. On this hurricane-ravaged meet-the-family Thanksgiving, Lesly, Marty’s fiancee, has a case of cold and wet feet.
Its author, Wendy MacLeod, shared her words on the genesis of this play when it first debuted in 1995: “The play started with a particular house, a house I saw in an elegant suburb of Washington, D.C. There was just something about this chic, moneyed house that made me want in, and Lesly begins the play wanting in. The title came from a graffiti I saw written on a bathroom wall – ‘We are living in a house of yes.’ It made me think about Edgar Allan Poe and pornography and mostly about amorality. The play is about people that have never been said no to. It’s about an insularity I see in the upper classes, people who have cut themselves off from the rest of the world and are living by the rules they’ve invented. It is a great mistake to imagine the play is camp because the characters pretend to be Jack and Jackie Kennedy. In a blurring of events, they have confused the Kennedys with their own parents and we are merely watching a version of children playing house.”
“I saw it in L.A. in the 1990s,” said director and co-producer Jim Oxborrow. “I fell in love with it immediately. The characters are so real and layered. I immediately bought a ticket to see it again the next night. I thought, ‘What did I just see?’ — and had to get another look.”
“I feel very fortunate to have begun this project under Jonathan’s (Lehman) wing, and to be able to bring it to fruition. Jim approached me about it first, and our partnership has been so fun and graced with some sort of magical ease,” said Rose, co-producer of this inaugural Rose/Oxborrow Production. (ProArts co-founder Lehman served as an advisor to Rose and Oxborrow until his sudden passing last month.) “On Maui we see these fantastic coalitions; collaborative efforts of Maui theater artists and enthusiasts contributing talent, materials, time and energy to make art happen. And so it does.”
The engagement of Lesly and Marty is seen as a threat to Jackie-O, who has recently been released from a mental hospital. A battle over Marty becomes a battle between the Pascals’ lyrical lunacies versus Lesly’s uncomplicatedness. The plot is further layered when the puppyish younger brother, Anthony (Elisha Cullins), immediately falls for Lesly and her ordinariness, while Mrs. Pascal still laments over her husband’s murky disappearance.
” ‘The House of Yes’ kind of continues to amaze me, added Rose. “Wendy MacLeod’s writing just moves me — her craftsmanship; the characters’ language, their vernacular, how they share a phraseology and rhythm within the family, then, lo, there comes an outsider that continues to relentlessly prove her non-belonging with literalism and lack of play — it’s stunning.”
“I find it to be quite Pinter-esque, and anything that approaches Pinter’s sparse dialogue, full of tension and import, while entirely cloaked in the mundane, is very interesting to me,” Oxborrow said, echoing MacLeod’s thoughts on camp. “It’s not camp, not at all,” he shared. “This is a love story and it’s very real. It’s an 18-hour slice of this strange family’s life and there is some taboo subject matter, and Jennifer and I are excited to discover how it’s going to go over with Maui audiences.”
* Rose/Oxborrow Productions in conjunction with ProArts Inc. presents the Maui premiere of “The House of Yes” by Wendy MacLeod, directed by Jim Oxborrow. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays beginning Friday and continuing through Oct. 30 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Due to the adult nature of this dark comedy, it may not be appropriate for children. Tickets are $25 and are available by phone at 463-6550 or online at www.houseofyes.yapsody.com.
ALSO THIS WEEKEND
The final performances of Maui OnStage’s “Boeing Boeing” will conclude at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.
* Tickets range from $20 to $40 and are available by calling 242-6969 or visiting www.mauionstage.com. Due to the adult nature of this bedroom farce, it may not be appropriate for children.
Rick Scheideman continues his rotating one-man show series with “An Evening with Mark Twain” on Sunday and “The Old Man and the Sea” on Oct. 23. Performances are at 6:30 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 11 at the Pioneer Inn courtyard in Lahaina. Courtyard dining is also available.
* Tickets are $22 and may be reserved by calling (303) 507-0987 or purchased at the door.
Maui OnStage Youth Theater presents Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.”
* Performances will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 22 and 29 and at 1 p.m. Oct. 23 and 30 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for youth and are available by calling 242-6969 or by visiting www.mauionstage.com.
In the one-man show “Robert Angelo as Clarence Darrow,” Angelo portrays the famous attorney, reminiscing over his renowned career and touching on many of his famous trials, including the Scopes “monkey” trial and the Leopold and Loeb case.
* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. O. 21 and 22 in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets range from $25 to $35 (plus applicable fees and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
ProArts Inc. will be holding auditions for “The Game’s Afoot: Or Holmes for the Holidays” by Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me A Tenor”), directed by Kristi Scott, at 10 a.m. Saturday at the ProArts Playhouse.
Appointments are not necessary, but all actors are asked to prepare a short comic monologue and be prepared to read from the script. A stipend will be paid to all cast members. Seven of the roles have been cast. Remaining roles are open to both men and women. The production will open Dec. 2 with weekend performances through Dec. 18. Rehearsals will begin immediately following casting.
* For more information, call 463-6550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.