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Making “Yes”- An Interview with Jim Oxborrow and Jennifer Rose

PC: Jack Grace
When I met with Jim Oxborrow and Jennifer Rose on a warm September day at the Pro Arts Theater in Kihei, there was a great deal of rubble and noise. The set to “The House of Yes,” their shared passion project, was being assembled and, while I could see the vision coming together, things on stage were still, at the moment, rather messy. It’s fitting, since the play itself is about the messiness of family and is one of the darker, more unusual plays performed on a Maui theater stage in ages.

Wendy MacLeod’s 1990 play portrays a night in the life of the Pascal family, who put their eldest son’s new girlfriend (and each other) through a night of shocking reveals and ordeals. I was familiar with the play, having encountered it in the 90’s as a young acting student, and was fascinated by Oxborrow’s decision to helm it. Rose is one of the leads and is producing the play alongside Oxborrow, making his directorial debut. They are both cheerful and passionate about the production, and our discussion covers topics ranging from the Kennedy dynasty, modern parenting and what they hope audience reaction may be.

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Barry Wurst: Why “The House of Yes”?

Jim Oxborrow: I saw it twenty years ago. I found it very Pinter-esque. It reminded me of that Charlie Rich song, “Behind Closed Doors.” I thought it was hilarious and witty. I responded to the craziness of it. It’s about people who never hear the word “no” and are an exception to societal roles.

BW: (to Jennifer Rose) Were you a fan of the material as well?

Jennifer Rose: I thought it was just so clever, a real American classic. I connected immediately with the repartee. It was like contemporary Oscar Wilde.

BW: (to Jennifer Rose) What was your approach to the character?

JR: She comes from a place of love but she should be reeled in. She’s an unprepared parent, living in a closed off world. The Pascals are removed from real life.

BW: (to Jim Oxborrow) What led to you directing it?

JO: It originated as an ONO (One Night Only) production at The Historic Iao Theater. It was taken off the schedule. Jennifer and I were dedicated to do it, so we approached Pro Arts and we’ve collaborated with them.

BW: How do you feel about the word “camp”? Was that a welcome or unwelcome word in your production?

JO: I completely avoided making it campy. I felt it was wrong to play it that way. It’s about relationships, family and love. I felt it was necessary to take away the camp.

BW: The play, on some level, is about the Kennedy family. Is there a political connection in “The House of Yes” to current day politics?

JR: Yes, the iconography of leadership, something that can be traded on. It’s about people who have a value beyond who they are. The play portrays how the JFK legacy and the Pascal family history get mixed up.

BW: When people ask you what the play’s about, what do you tell them?

JR: It’s about a social problem I first encountered years ago. I worked in Manhattan as a nanny and met people who had nothing to do with their kids. I’d be the “mom” to kids whose mother wasn’t around. We see that now as a form of work, not as a reflection of the middle class. It’s a societal problem.

JO: The play is about what we know, or think we know, versus the reality of the situation.

JR: My upbringing looked different inside my house from friends and family on the outside. The Pascal’s are people who are like those people who you think you know, then you’re blown away by who they truly are.

JO: There’s a scale to family. There’s the traditional and how messy it can become.

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PC: Jack Grace

BW: (to both) Who is Jackie Onassis to you?

JR: For me, the most remarkable thing was how she sought out and returned the original White House furniture. At one point, The White House appeared like a war room. So, she contacted prior presidents, found the families and connections. People gifted back The White House items that made it look like a real home. She was brilliant.

JO: I connected with John-John. I knew Jackie as John John’s Mom. The Obama’s brought back an element of elegance and refinement to The White House but I think we’ve lost what the Kennedy’s had. We’re too cynical for that.

JO: Yes, once we lost John Jr., we lost that.

BW: How has the experience been of putting this show on its feet?

JR: It’s a great game, a high stakes game they play, which is what life can be.

JO: I don’t mind making audiences uncomfortable, but it’s just life.

JR: (gesturing to Jim) Our aesthetic sensibilities are aligned. I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with someone as much as you. It’s taken our own money and scrapping things together. It’s been awesome, a perfect thing.

JO: We’re the producers, it’s our money and it’s been a homemade endeavor.

JR: Theater should always be about provoking thought. “The House of Yes” is about family, and that’s life! Self-reflection and compassion are the takeaways we hope for.

JO: I want audiences to go, “wow…I can’t believe what I just saw.”

The House of Yes is at the Pro Arts Playhouse in Akeza Marketplace (next to Taco Bell). The show runs October 14-30th. Tickets are available at HouseOfYes.Yapsody.com or by calling 808-268-4650.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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