- Photo courtesy of Off the Wall
- Virginia Wall Gruenert (standing), Lauren Michaels and Justin Mohr in The House of Yes, at Off the Wall.
Screwed-Up Families and Theater -- it's a match made in a psychiatrist's office. Where would our playwrights be without dysfunctional relations screaming at each other across conveniently claustrophobic living rooms?
And families don't get any wackier than the Pascals in Wendy MacLeod's comedy/drama The House of Yes, now at Off the Wall Productions. Older brother Marty brings home his new fiancée, Lesly. This doesn't please Marty's twin sister, known as Jackie-O, with whom he shares a creepy affection. But it does please little brother Anthony, who instantly falls for his soon-to-be sister-in-law. And Mrs. Pascal runs around downing the gin, coughing up the epigrams and doing her best to embrace denial.
As is the way with plays, lots of bad behavior and a bevy of bad secrets are soon spilling out. And as the hurricane rages outside -- did I mention it takes place during a hurricane? -- these characters weather an indoor emotional storm.
MacLeod has a wonderful gift for writing skewed, off-kilter dialogue with jokes that sneak up on you. Unfortunately, she also writes random quirkiness in place of actual structure. The play starts where it ends up … a phenomenon which seems to be contradicted by, but is in fact proven thanks to, the indulgent big-bang climax she's supplied.
Director Robyne Parrish compounds the problem somewhat by allowing her actors to play the end at the beginning. It's not an indefensible idea -- sometimes you want to thrust the audience right into the middle of things, rather than going for the slow build. But because there is no emotional arc in the script, some variety in the playing might have paid off.
John Steffenauer, who plays Anthony, has a neat trick of throwing away the end of his lines, which adds some welcome nuance. Lauren Michaels, as Jackie-O, is too arch too soon too consistently, and Erika Cuenca, as Lesly, seems defeated the moment she steps through the door. The role of Marty, a cipher throughout, is a thankless one, and Justin Mohr does what he can. Fortunately, Virginia Wall Gruenert, as Mrs. Pascal, has both the jokes and the skill to knock 'em home.
THE HOUSE OF YES continues through Sat., Dec. 17. Off the Wall, 147 N. Main St., Washington. 412-394-3353 or www.insideoffthewall.com