Incest is practically old hat nowadays, having been thrust into the mainstream by the Pulitzer-prize winning novel Middlesex and plenty of HBO series (and probably Showtime too).
But The House of Yes was doing it before all of them. A pitch-black comedy that centers on the deeply dysfunctional Pascal family during an ill-fated Thanksgiving, The House of Yes approaches the subject with startling directness, dark humor, and real empathy. It’s a play that walks a lot of razor-thin lines; the slightest misstep could dissolve it into absurdity or something utterly unbelievable.
In the capable hands of What If? Productions, however, the story is allowed to reach its fullest impact both comically and tragically. The play opens with the aristocratic Mrs. Pascal and her two grown children, Jackie-O (so called for her obsession with the JFK assassination) and Anthony, awaiting the arrival of Jackie-O’s twin brother Marty. When he arrives with a fiancée in tow, he and the rest of the family must deal with the unbalanced and deathly jealous Jackie-O, who loves Marty with more than just sisterly affection.
Director Kyle Barnette has assembled a stellar cast who aren’t afraid to dive deep into the messiness at the heart of The House of Yes. Samille Basler, as the disturbingly undisturbed mother, is reminiscent of a hardened, cynical Amanda Wingfield, while Mary Fishburne shines in the role of Marty’s innocent fiancée Lesly. Storm Smith, whose comic chops never fail to impress, is all bright eyes and bushy-tailed as the younger brother Anthony; whether he’s clumsily attempting a seduction or cheerily divulging bits of family history that most families would take pains to hide, Smith steals the stage with his offbeat delivery and boyish frankness.
The real stars of the show, though, are visiting artist Patrick Arnheim and What If? company member Carri Schwab, who play the twins. Arnheim’s portrayal of Marty, who wants so badly to move on from his past yet cannot completely escape Jackie-O’s pull, is full and complex; he makes it apparent that the normal, good guy that Marty has managed to become is barely floating atop a deep well of shame, darkness, and tortured love.
Schwab holds absolutely nothing back as Jackie-O, embracing both her character’s pain, and the cruel insanity that she’s developed as a result of it. Schwab’s ecstatic, ardor-filled greeting of Marty when he arrives home for the first time in years, and her furious scream when she finds out that Marty is engaged, are evidence of her complete commitment to this deeply flawed yet sympathetic character. Schwab wears Jackie-O’s evening gowns with an easy grace, almost floating across the stage, but can just as convincingly pull off the twitchy tics that hint at Jackie-O’s restless, fragmented consciousness.
Barnette has created a set and an aesthetic that is sort of upper-class bohemian, creatively utilizing Threshold’s space so as to both enlarge the stage area and hold more seats. He’s chosen a haunting version of the classic song “Que Sera Sera” as a kind of theme for the show, which emphasizes the emptiness at the heart of the Pascal family. It sounds like a lullaby you’d hear in a horror movie, which is appropriate; for in a way, Marty and Jackie-O are still children who approach their sexual relationship as one big, if shameful, game. Unfortunately, the consequences on both of their lives are anything but pretend.