Camelot and Other Fairy Stories 

TM's House of Yes is troubled but tasty.

No one has done more to show how Americans have fetishized the Kennedy administration than a British author named J.G. Ballard. In his short rant, A Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Seen as an Uphill Bicycle Race, he had the audacity to claim that men get tremendous erections while viewing photographs of the car Kennedy was riding in when a bullet tore through his head. He created a not-so-fictional world of media saturation where the rising and falling of Jackie-O's hemline could drastically affect international markets. Using the blackest of black humor Ballard held a mirror up to one of our most sacred national obsessions, showing us the horrible psychological scars we suffered when Camelot exploded in front of our very eyes.

After Ballard was through there was little left to say about this particular phenomenon. Then along comes House of Yes, an odd little play that was turned into an equally odd little film starring Parker Posey and Genevieve Bujold. In a number of ways, House of Yes picked up where Plan for the Assassination left off by showing us a family that embodied many aspects of Ballard's dark diatribe. Though House of Yes employs a decidedly Hitchcockian brand of suspense, it is, at heart, a sex farce. While the film has a lot to recommend it, the play is fraught with problems, and though Theatre Memphis' production is an admirable one, it can't entirely overcome the fact that when the play turns serious it becomes unduly repetitive, the dialogue disintegrates, and the narrative all but disappears. In fact, if House of Yes starred Andrew Stevens and featured a few bare boobs, it might pass for a live version of the kind of erotic thriller you can find on Skin-o-max every Friday night. It has the appearance of substance, but it's really just a dirty joke. Not a bad dirty joke, mind you, but a dirty joke nonetheless.

Outside the Pascal home a hurricane is blowing. The world is being turned topsy-turvy by an awesome force of nature. Inside the Pascal home another no less awesome force of nature, Jackie-O, called so because of her fascination with the storied first lady, anxiously awaits her twin brother Marty's arrival. When Marty arrives with his new fiancée in tow it is Jackie-O and not the hurricane who begins to blow the house down. You see, Jackie-O and Marty like to do it. They like to do it weird. Jackie dresses up like Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy in a smart pink suit and a pillbox hat. They re-enact the assassination (without once mentioning a grassy knoll, thank heavens) and then they get busy. Marty wants to end this unnatural affair, but Jackie- O isn't about to let that happen. She's had a history of mental illness and she's ready to kill if she has to. From the onset it looks like she has to.

The entire Pascal household appears to be possessed of an off-kilter sexual permissiveness that may or may not reference the pre-AIDS sexual revolution that Aquarians are so fond of bragging about. Mrs. Pascal (dryly, sometimes wonderfully, played by Louise Levin), an encyclopedia of acerbic one-liners, claims not to truly know who fathered her children. Anthony Pascal, Marty and Jackie-O's sweet but somewhat dim younger brother, is obsessed by the idea of sex with Marty's fiancée Lesly. While reluctant to give in to his seemingly stunted desires, Lesly, a plain and simple girl who works in a donut shop, finds it difficult to say no to the boy. It's A Midsummer Night's Dream as only the Marquis de Sade might imagine it, and Puck's magic ointment has been replaced by the precious blood of JFK.

Director Ed Tatum has done a fine job building the suspense, but the show gathers very little momentum as it creeps toward its obvious and unsatisfactory conclusion. This is largely because each cast member employs a different acting style. Levin and Jesse Klenk (Marty) take a stiff, somewhat formalized approach to their work with decidedly Stepfordian results. For this to work, everyone else would have to be doing the exact same thing and the pace would have to quicken. Unfortunately, and in spite of the fact that they are doing good, Levin and Klenk seem disconnected from everyone else in the play. Kyle Barnette (Anthony), who is rapidly becoming my favorite actor in town, and Laura Anne Otts (Lesly) take a simpler, more realistic approach to their roles, but in the end they too seem disconnected. Jenny Hollingsworth, who has proven her skill and range time and time again, falls a bit short of the mark as Jackie-O. Hers is a grating two-note performance with lots of smirking and eyebrow-lifting. The urge to play stark raving crazy has superseded the fact that Jackie-O's condition stems from what are, to her, very real needs. She misses every opportunity for subtlety and slyness and overindulges in loud caustic bitchery.

A wonderfully executed set by T. Reid Parker sets the perfect tone for House of Yes. A black and blue checkerboard floor is flanked by two vaguely Asian door frames that have been given a Caligariesque slant. A revolve makes set changes fast and painless. It's too bad that the suspended round window frames weren't better used. If they had been positioned and lit a little more carefully, a shadow resembling a rifle's crosshairs might have fallen on the area where the characters make their illicit hay, adding to the show's expressionistic feel.

House of Yes is at the Little Theatre, Theatre Memphis through April 15th.

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