I recently had a director tell me that directing is 90 percent casting—that selecting actors is the toughest and most important factor in staging a successful production. I had always been loath to believe this claim wholeheartedly—for its utter simplicity. But after watching The House of Yes at Spontaneous Productions and reading Paul Budge's director's note (I can't rave enough about this cast. It's like the perfect people showed up at auditions and I simply had to introduce them to each other.), this directorial dictum rang crystal clear in a venue where I have previously seen many miscast actors.
This is to say that the cast of Spontaneous's latest play, The House of Yes is one of the best I've seen on their stage. All five actors have endowed the script's meaty roles with strong characterizations, making this wonderfully perverse and funny play very worthwhile.
The House of Yes focuses on a radically dysfunctional family, whose notions of love, sex, family and healthy, normal living are extremely muddy. The roots of the family's many neuroses can be traced to the eccentric Mrs. Pascal (Bonnie Peacher), a mother who tells her son's fiancée (whom she's just met) that she's not sure who the father(s) of her children are and flippantly declares, "You raise cattle, children just happen." Peacher delivers many a shocking line with aplomb, only occasionally underplaying some of the most clever lines.
The play opens as Marty (Jeremiah Walker), the elder son, returns home for Thanksgiving with his new fiancée, Leslie. Jackie O, Marty's twin sister, is beyond excited to see him and Mrs. Pascal and Anthony (the younger brother who lives at home with Jackie O) are beyond anxious about her excitement. Jackie O is caustic, witty, funny, cruel, charming and totally unstable—as evidenced by her angry explosions, her impure history with her brother and her obsession with the Kennedy family and Jack Kennedy's assassination. Angela Bush carries off the complex role of Jackie O with a fiery mix of humor, magnetism and mania.
The glaringly normal fiancée Leslie (Katie McNeese) innocently enters this suburban house that seethes with secrets; her character provides a mirror for a family that has never known guests, regular social interaction or self-reflection. McNeese does a fine job going from courteous to curious to appalled—and ultimately gets sucked into the drama that defines this family. Marty, the one child who managed to flee the crazy coop, desperately tries to hold onto a belief that life on the outside—regular, boring, married life—is what he wants. Meanwhile, the neglected younger brother Anthony (Mansi Loya) waffles between trying to normalize things and trying to be an integral player in several maddening mind games. Loya is hysterically naïve and surprisingly manipulative, the perfect shadowed, sensitive younger sibling.
Some of the interchanges that play out in this less than 24-hour period are absolutely beyond belief yet hardly seem so in the moment, because the commitment of the characters runs so deep and the underlying questions are so piercing. What is insanity? Why do people want to be someone other than themselves? What is truth and who determines it? Do secrets make us sick? Who can say what is best for someone else? How do you distinguish between love, lust, loneliness and obsession?
Through the course of action, playwright Wendy McLeod opens up several supersize cans of worms and never seals any of them. The House of Yes is a subversive portrayal of educated, wealthy suburbanites in the vein of American Beauty or The Royal Tenenbaums with a brilliant open-to-interpretation ending and a steady stream of razor sharp one-liners.
The House of Yes by Wendy McLeod, directed by Paul Budge
May 7 and 8, 8 p.m.; May 9, 2 p.m.; May 13, 14, 15, 8 p.m.
Spontaneous Productions, 1011 Williams Street, corner of Broadway and Boise
$10 tickets at Ticketweb