At the start of Pigs Eye Theatre's excellent production of Wendy MacLeod's raven black comedy The House of Yes, Anthony Pascal (Matthew Anderson) casually informs his older sister Jackie O (Stacia Rice) about Thanksgiving dinner. Jackie's twin brother Marty (Steve Sweere), it turns out, will be bringing a female companion, a doughnut-shop employee named Lesley (Angie Haugh). Jackie greets this news with a level of anxiety that would seem excessive even for the most protective sibling or anti-doughnut activist, and one begins to wonder if the bandage wrapped around Jackie's hand didn't result from some act of high looniness.
Marty has been away from the Pascals' ritzy Virginia home for a while. So, it seems, has everyone else. While attempting to seduce his brother's steady (a relatively tame act in a play that also features an incestuous dalliance) Anthony confesses that the family has never before received a guest. Even if this is an exaggeration, it's likely that the family has never received the same guest twice. Later still we learn that Jackie's ill-starred effort to boil effervescence back into some distressingly flat seltzer water--the cause of the aforementioned bandage--drove the maid out the door, presumably to seek saner working conditions at the Claus von Bulow estate.
When Marty and Lesley arrive, they are a bit shaken from having driven through a hurricane. In other words, it is a dark and stormy night and two young lovers come to a mansion that's home to a strange and exceedingly isolated family. The horror-movie motif--or at least the Rocky Horror vibe--is furthered by the blood-curdling scream Jackie lets out upon learning that Lindsey isn't just Marty's girlfriend but his fiancée. In keeping with this point of reference, Rice's performance, though in tune with the low-key tone of Suzy Messerole's direction, has the delicious transparency of a melodramatic villain. When Lesley discovers Jackie and Marty in a position that I'm pretty sure is proscribed by most moral authorities and discouraged by nine out of ten obstetricians, Rice delivers a smile that's extravagantly wicked and uncomfortably sexy.
The House of Yes, best known through the 1997 movie starring Parker Posey, is the season opener for Pigs Eye's fourth season, to which the company has unfortunately applied the name "Life in the 20th Century." (This also, if memory serves, was the title of my high school sociology textbook.) Headed by Randall J. Funk, Pigs Eye is sister to Fifty Foot Penguin, Starting Gate, and Gremlin Theater, the group of closely aligned companies that can feel like a single agglutination. The companies often draw from the same pool of artists and have a comparable devotion to straightforward, well-acted readings of work that tends to be fairly traditional by urban indie standards.
Pigs Eye's trip back in time finds MacLeod surveying the anomie of the moneyed class and the eccentric underbelly of the century's soggy bottom. In the program notes, Funk says the play suggests the "great uncertainty" of the epoch's closing years. It does seem set at the spiritually depleted terminus of a long descent from Camelot. Jackie O earned her nickname as a child by coming to a costume party dressed as Jacqueline Kennedy, wearing a blood-splattered pink Chanel outfit. Read what you will into Jackie's Kennedy fixation. I prefer to enjoy the play as a wonderfully clever, sinfully fun little farce, more like the impact point of Gerald Ford's famous airplane-ladder tumble than the dead end of the Dallas motorcade.
The Pascal family's mansion may represent a black hole of modern morality--but they look sensational! Marty's brown suede loafers (how much do you want for them?) and similarly toned jacket give him an air of smart regality, and Jeannie Galioto's facsimile of that Chanel suit is nicely turned out. Most disturbing about these touches--and I should here point out that we at City Pages Media, Inc. stand firmly opposed to incest--is that Marty and Jackie look like a damn cute couple. Presidential, even.