Dark secrets revealed in ‘House of Yes’

Stage Review

Elisha Cullins (from left), Patty Lee Sylva, John Williams, Hoku Pavao and Jennifer Rose perform in “The House of Yes.” JACK GRACE photo

A few years ago, a frequent reader of Backstage emailed me. The reader had disagreed with my opinion of a show and asked, “You like dark topics, don’t you?” My answer was, “Yes.” “The House of Yes” is a very dark piece that offers a fly-on-the-wall vantage point of a disturbed and damaged family self-cloistered in a moneyed estate in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. No, it’s not about the 2016 presidential election, but the adult content is no more unsettling than a random sampling of our current cable news.

Because the shocking secrets of the Pascal family are so instrumental to “The House of Yes,” it is difficult to offer an overview of the play without revealing its surprise plot twists. Jackie-O, in a virtuoso performance by Hoku Pavao, is traumatized by a childhood memory that has left her mentally unstable and a danger to herself. Mrs. Pascal, played by Jennifer Rose in one of her most masterful performances, proclaims, “You don’t raise children like cattle, they just are.” Rose is imposingly regal in the role, but finds moments to illicit both sympathy and large laughs as the sarcastic martini-drinking matriarch of the house.

Jackie-O, recently released from an institution, is prone to violent setbacks merely because the soda water has gone flat. The return of her beloved twin brother, Marty (John Williams), for Thanksgiving affords some hope to remedy her delicate condition. Williams displays a charming coyness as Marty with dual mischievousness that emerges whenever his fiancee, Lesly (Patty Lee Sylva), is absent. Glaringly affected by the surprise fiancee, Jackie-O quickly devolves into her most unhinged of personalities. Sylva, as Lesly, offers an equally polished performance as the sweet, normal girl from Pennsylvania who works in a doughnut shop. As she glances around the lavish set, she conveys early into the show that she wants inside this elite world. Later we discover that Lesly has some skeletons of her own, allowing the audience to ponder who, if anyone, is sinless, and who if anyone deserves our sympathy.

Elisha Cullins gives a praiseworthy performance as Anthony, the younger brother of Jackie-O and Marty, particularly when he too descends into the taboo world of the Pascal’s subversions. The hurricane-ravaged night exceedingly turns darker by the hour as the twins stay up all night drinking Bacardi and Pepsi, and we discover supplementary details about the deeply repressed secrets that transpired Nov. 22, 1963. Jackie-O, donned in the familiar pink Chanel suit, reenacts the Kennedy assassination as Marty plays John. The siblings have clung to each other since the disappearance of their father that same night in 1963. The game triggers the opening of closet doors as the elephant in the living room is finally addressed.

Wisely, the tension of this production is not interrupted by an intermission. In his debut as a director, Jim Oxborrow has given Maui a cosmopolitan production worthy of in-depth post-show conversation. Oxborrow surrounds himself with a stellar cast and outstanding designers, who as a team transport us into a world rarely explored on Maui stages.

* 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 continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays 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.