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Absurdity abounds in Custom Made’s ‘House of Yes’

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From left, Elliot Lieberman, Caitlin Evenson and Juliana Lustenader appear in Custom Made Theatre’s “The House of Yes.” (Courtesy Jay Yamada)
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Wendy MacLeod’s black comedy, “The House of Yes,” gives new and appalling meaning to the term “dysfunctional family.”

It premiered at the Magic Theatre in 1990 and is now in an excellent revival at Custom Made Theatre.

It’s 1983. The privileged and insular Pascal family of Washington, D.C., centers on tightly wound daughter Jackie-O (a wonderfully brittle and intense Caitlin Evenson), who is only six months back home from a mental hospital where she’d been sent after shooting (but not killing) her beloved twin brother in a fruitless effort to keep him from leaving. Her name derives from her obsessive overidentification with a certain former president’s wife, and the bizarre rituals that accompany that obsession.

Dithering but steely-eyed Mom (a haughty, pitch-perfect Shelley Lynn Johnson), always with a drink in hand, wafts about saying things like “I look at you people and I wonder how did you ever fit in my womb.” Her idea of keeping the peace is to cater to Jackie-O’s needs. “Jackie-O always gets what she wants,” says Mrs. Pascal implacably. What Jackie-O wants is unspeakable.

Clueless younger brother Anthony (a hilariously wide-eyed and off-kilter Elliot Lieberman) is in charge of giving Jackie-O her meds (she recently changed from orange to blue pills to match her eyes).

When Marty (Casey Robbins, with an ear-to-ear grin covering his angst) arrives for a Thanksgiving visit, amid a raging storm (fine sound effects by Ryan Lee Short), to introduce his family to his fiancée, Lesly, all hell breaks loose.

The very least of the problems is that Lesly (played with an interesting mix of innocence and canniness by Juliana Lustenader) belongs to a lower social class; she’s a waitress at a Donut King franchise.

But mostly, the problem is the unhinged and insanely jealous Jackie-O.

Odd and unsettling, “The House of Yes” is at its core a love story, skewed for sure, and Stuart Bousel, who directs briskly, with a firm grasp of the play’s wicked humor, knows this.

The Pascal characters are tweaked to just this side of the utterly outlandish in a way that somehow creates empathy.

How Lesly — the designated outsider and therefore the normal one — fits into this tormented family turns out, in the end, to be not quite believable. But that has to do with the playwright’s idealized, or maybe even old-fashioned, view of love.

REVIEW

The House of Yes
Where: Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, closes April 29
Tickets: $32 to $35
Contact: (415) 798-2682, www.custommade.org

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