Jennifer Bemis as Jackie-O in The House of Yes.

House of Maybe

Aside from a single, tatty staircase that could use a good coat of paint, David Weiss has created a plush, gorgeous set for his directorial bow with Nearly Naked Theater. Unfortunately, he's filled this resplendent stage with an unremarkable performance of The House of Yes, playwright Wendy MacLeod's spectacularly vulgar comedy about the kind of oddball cranks who only exist on the stage.

The story takes place in the Pascals' Virginia home, sometime in the early '80s. It's Thanksgiving, and Marty has brought his new fiance to meet his eccentric mother, Mrs. Pascal; his younger brother, Anthony; and his twin sister, Jackie-O, who is obsessed with the Kennedys. Jackie has recently been released from the bughouse after shooting Marty and, while a symbolic hurricane wails away outside, she torments her family with violent threats, stages a whacked-out reenactment of the JFK assassination, and has sex with her twin brother. Pass the cranberry sauce.

MacLeod is no Christopher Durang, but she's fashioned a funny script about a nasty family of unlikely characters who exist only to reveal the dirty white underbelly of the upper class. This is a farce, so the son brings his intended to visit a mother he doesn't particularly like, a brother he barely knows, and the nutso sister who tried to murder him last year. He wants to escape these people and his own past by marrying Lesly, but -- and here MacLeod is nudging and winking like mad -- we know he's doomed.


The House of Yes

Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre, 100 West McDowell.

Continues through March 20. Call 602-274-2432.

It's all very funny on the page (and, I'm told, in the 1997 film version starring Parker Posey), but less so on the stage. That's mostly because Weiss has failed to unite his cast members, who are all playing at different speeds. I usually lament Patti Davis Suarez's decision to leave television newscasting for live theater, but I liked her as Mrs. Pascal, the mordant mom of this ghastly clan. She strikes the right balance between madness and elegance, between sarcasm and wit. Suarez is stylishly dressed and gracefully posed, but her performance is all about ruined finery.

Christian Miller is satisfyingly smug and shallow in the less jazzy role of Marty, a man who maybe doesn't want to ditch his sordid past after all. Boyd Branch is convincingly earnest as Anthony, the Marilyn Munster of this ghoulish group. Kyla Andrews hits her marks and remembers all of her lines, but her Lesly is so unappealing that we're actually glad that she'd probably have dumped Marty even if she hadn't met his peculiar family and learned his terrible secrets.

In the program's showiest role, Jennifer Bemis has no repertoire of comic madness to mine. She plays Jackie-O as a wacky caricature; a pillbox hat and a big smile, an overboard personality with makeup thick enough to cover both her desperation and her deep distress. (In fact, nearly every player has spent too long in makeup designer Damon Dering's chair; I'm holding Dering responsible for the fact that I was less interested in why Jackie-O shot her brother than I was in why young Branch appeared to be wearing seven pounds of Max Factor Number Nine. On the other hand, Dering's mostly high-end costuming choices are perfect.)

I was frankly surprised not to have liked this production more. Nearly Naked has turned out more impressive productions than any local company, large or small, in recent years, and MacLeod's fine, funny comedy is right up this troupe's alley. But somehow, this production of The House of Yes is mostly a no show.



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