Review: ‘The House of Yes’ at Custom Made Theatre (***1/2)

by Charles Kruger

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Stuart Bousel has identified “The House of Yes” as being on his bucket list of shows to direct before retiring. Be glad of that, because he makes this eccentrically funny one-act (75 minutes long) run like a well-oiled laugh machine. Eccentric? Well, it involves incest, a mother who proudly announces that she has no clue who fathered her three children (possibly her deceased husband), numerous dead Kennedy jokes, and extreme sibling rivalry involving gun shots and seductions. That’ll do for a start. When one of the children brings home his unsuspecting fiance for a surprise introduction on Thanksgiving in the midst of a hurricane, comic hell breaks loose. You will either laugh till you cry or be very offended, quite possibly both.

The puzzling title refers to the privileged householders, a thoroughly upper class Washington power family, the Pascals, who live in a world where they are so coddled that they never hear “no” to anything. This mad freedom of indulgence has driven the daughter of the house quite mad. Her behavior has been unacceptably bizarre, consisting of weird temper tantrums when anything fails to go her way, and the occasional suicide attempts which have landed her in mental hospitals specializing in neuroses of the very rich. This Thanksgiving she is home in the bosom of her demented family, and Mom is determined to see that everything goes well. But there is a fly in the ointment: her twin brother is coming for Thanksgiving (good!) but is bringing “a friend” (possibly very, very bad!). Any  outsider entering into this fickle family menagerie is likely to make some disturbing discoveries.

Some readers, perhaps, will recognize similarities with Peter Barnes’s 1968 play, “The Ruling Class.” That piece also explores the privileged over indulgence of society’s most extreme uppity ups and how any sensitive souls “to the manor born” can be driven mad.

While the present production does a splendid job of playing this mad cap comedy for all the laughs it can wrangle, it does not  do full justice to the theme of class which is an integral part of the play. Ideally, much of the humor should derive from the perfect surface  manners and upscale physical environment of the Pascal family and the increasingly obvious contrast with the anything-but-perfect reality. In this production, sets, costumes, hairstyles, and mannerisms do not successfully communicate “upper class,” and that is a disappointment.

Although this flaw leaves much of the play’s potential unrealized, the laughs are nevertheless plentiful. All of the company are skilled at comic timing, and Director Stuart Bousel has made sure that rhythms are varied and pauses are strategically planned to draw maximum laughter. Shelley Lynn Johnson as Mrs. Pascal, the family matriarch, is particularly good at delivering punchlines. As Marty Pascal, Casey Robbins is a beguiling Teddy Bear who makes incest seem innocuous, and Caitlin Evenson is very good as the controlling Jackie-O who uses her mental illness to play her family like an orchestra. Elliot Lieberman, as Marty’s younger brother, Anthony Pascal, is a wily seducer. As Marty’s unsuspecting fiance, Lesly, Juliana Lustenader is very good as she gradually discovers that her future inlaws, however upper class they may be, have more in common with the Munsters than the Rockefellers.

Laughs are guaranteed.

“The House of Yes” plays at the Custom Made Theatre through April 29. For further information, click here.

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Rating: ***1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“The House Of Yes” by Wendy MacLeod. Produced by the Custom Made Theatre Company. Director: Stuart Bousel. Scenic Designer: Zoe Rosenfeld. Lighting Designer: Sophia Craven. Sound Designer: Ryan Lee Short. Costume Designer: Kathleen Qiu. Properties Designer: Seth Boeckman. Scenic Artist: Nicola McCarthy.

Cast:

Jackie-O Pascal: Caitlin Evenson. Marty Pascal: Casey Robbins. Anthony Pascal: Elliot Lieberman. Mrs. Pascal: Shelley Lynn Johnson. Lesly: Juliana Lustenader.

 

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