The House of Yes
By Wendy MacLeod
Directed by David Morey
at the Mobtown Theater Through Nov. 23
There's only one thing we Americans love more than anniversaries, and that is assassinations. Since the entire country-and especially the baby boomers, who will never tire of recounting where they were that day-will be getting off on porn-y Zapruder shots of splattered presidential brains on the 50th anniversary of that day in Dallas, it is the perfect time for the Mobtown Players to stage The House of Yes, Wendy MacLeod's play about an incestuous pair of twins who reenact Kennedy's assassination as foreplay.
The play takes place on a Thanksgiving weekend 20 years after the assassination-another anniversary-as a hurricane strikes in McLean, Va., where the Pascal family lives in eccentric isolation just down the road from the Kennedy clan. Marty (Eric Paul Boesche), the eldest son and twin of Jackie-O (Melody Easton), is coming home from New York for the holiday and bringing his new fiancée, Lesly (Karen Grim). As we learn, this is precisely the thing that will send Jackie-O-who got her moniker at a costume party where she dressed up like the former first lady with brains on her dress-over the edge. She shot Marty when he first tried to move to New York, after all. And the rest of the family isn't exactly comfortable with having Lesly there either. Mrs. Pascal (Deb Carson) doesn't quite acknowledge that she knows her children have sex, but she immediately tells Lesly that Jackie was holding Marty's penis when they were born. (Now you don't have to feel so bad about bringing your fiancée home this Thanksgiving.)
Anthony (Brian M. Kehoe), the slightly slow younger brother, is uncomfortable for his own reasons. He tells Lesly they've never had a guest before and confesses that he has never had sex before, and awkwardly tries to seduce her as he helps her settle in her room.
All of this is played somewhere between tragedy and comedy. In the notes, the director David Morey calls it "a suburban Jacobean play" where there is a "huge gala . . . with everyone concealing their faces, and at the end, the (hopefully) artful reveal." Though there is an artful reveal, this description isn't quite accurate. It is closer in spirit to Les Liaisons Dangereuses, where the pleasures come from the sparkling, amoral dialogue and, yet, make a larger point about the moral corruption of the Ancien Regime. The humor is dark and sophisticated, and the two main characters are so wrapped up in their own world-a world even Marty tried to escape-that they can't see the reality of anyone else. That includes their mother and especially their younger brother, who is smart enough to recognize that Marty and Jackie-O are only "playing familial concern" rather than actually expressing it when they feign an interest in his life. "I always felt left out," he says, when he realizes they've been banging each other for most of his life.
House of Yes was made into a relatively successful indie flick in the late '90s, starring Parker Posey as Jackie-O. After the big Hollywood treatment, a small local production can end up feeling like a barroom cover of a stadium-rock song. Are you really gonna do it better than they did with big stars and big dollars? In true Charm City spirit, the Mobtown Players answer that question with a resounding "fuck yes, we are!" And I know because I came home, immediately after watching the play, and viewed the film-a testament to MacLeod's writing, for sure. But the Mobtown version was in many ways superior to the film, not just in the ways that stage is often superior to film-intimacy, immediacy, etc.-but in the quality of the acting and the director's interpretation of the script. Eric Paul Boesche as Marty, particularly, brings a vivid believability to the role that the film's Josh Hamilton never quite musters.
Melody Easton's part is more difficult because of the wide emotional spectrum that her character has to master, but with the exception of her slightly over-the-top fit in the opening minutes of the play, she plays the part as convincingly as Posey.
The Kennedy assassination, which set off the incestuous tryst in a couple different ways, allows this play to plumb something of the American psyche and our endless fascination with that event. This is hardly the only work of literature to obsess over what happened in Dallas, but it is perhaps the only one to give life to the erotic significance that has always, somehow, seemed to be there, lurking beneath the surface.