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Theater Review: The House of Yes

PC: Jack Grace
It’s not every day that a play like Wendy MacLeod’s “The House of Yes” appears in a community theater playhouses, let alone one on Maui.  MacLeod’s 1990 dark comedy is, to say the least, an unusual challenge for any group of actors. It’s also a theatrical rarity, a hard-to-describe and impossible to forget night of theater. This RoseOx production, performed at the wonderful, intimate Pro Arts Playhouse (located in Azeka Shopping Center in Kihei) is not only a first for the island but presents an artistic first for the man running the show. This is the directorial debut of local character actor Jim Oxborrow, a scene stealer and theater regular (his supporting turn in the 2014 “Wait Until Dark” is a personal favorite). Taking on MacLeod’s play as the first thing he’s ever directed was a risk, as it’s easy to get this show wrong and turn it into an insufferable bout of camp. It fills with me great joy to announce that Oxborrow has more than risen to the challenge- “The House of Yes” is a knockout.

The play moves swiftly, is performed without an intermission and is best seen cold, without any prior knowledge of what it’s about. I’ll tread carefully with the story: a young man named Marty Pascal (nicely played by John Williams) is bringing his girlfriend Lesly (an excellent Patty Lee Sylva) home to meet his family. What Lesly discovers and the audience learns immediately is that there’s something very…off about the Pascal family. Lesly sees a troubling quality in Marty’s naive, seemingly innocent younger brother Anthony (well played by Elisha Cullins). Marty’s mother (Jennifer Rose, a riot) seems to harbor ghastly secrets that she taunts Lesly with. Then there’s Marty’s sister (played by an unforgettable Hoku Pavao), who goes by “Jackie-O” and is obsessed with her brother. Lesly is initially the audience surrogate and we share her surprise at what she discovers. As the night wears on, the sanity of everyone present becomes questionable.

PC: Jack Grace
PC: Jack Grace

Pavao’s performance is initially very stylish, mining big laughs from her character’s uninhibited choice of words and forceful demeanor. As the play reveals its dark layers and Jackie-O becomes increasingly unhinged, Pavao’s turn becomes quite scary. There is a brief moment where Pavao charges to the front of the stage; it comes at a point where Jackie-O’s state of mind seems especially troubled. The commitment in Pavao’s acting made me wonder if she would end up diving into the audience. Here’s an example of a tour de force performance that is both disturbing and always entertaining to witness. There is a tragic center to Jackie-O and Pavao nails it.

Rose is wickedly funny as Mrs. Pascal, a batty matriarch who can barely contain herself from revealing all of her many secrets. Williams has some great moments with Pavao and conveys a man struggling to get out of twisted mindset he’s become accustomed to. Cullins has a tough role and he finds just the right note, hinting at the ways his character is both an overgrown child and an under-developed man. Sylva is exceptional, bringing layers and comic finesse to arguably the most sympathetic role.  These performances carry the show, as each actor taps into the core truths of their characters.

Seeing “The House of Yes” at the Pro Arts Playhouse is an immersive experience, due in large part to the excellent production design. There’s a perfect blend of ambient sounds and a simulated rain storm that somehow comes across as subtle and unobtrusive. The sets by Caro Walker and Daniel Vickers are adorned with drapes, a lush sofa, Roman columns and an inviting bed, making the Pascal home appear awfully cozy. Special mention goes to the wonderful work of costumer Vicki Nelson, wig stylist Marc Tolliver (of Loft 145 Salon) and the striking Chanel suit by Peter Lee Couture.  The look and feel of the show is just right.

yes-4
PC: Jack Grace

With its sometimes explicit dialogue, mature subject matter and a few scenes of actors in states of undress, this one isn’t appropriate for children. On the other hand, adults with a fiendish sense of humor will eat this up. The opening night audience certainly did, as the hearty laughter was relentless and only occasionally halted by stunned silence.

Oxborrow’s productions of “The House of Yes” is hilarious and eerie, a human drama capable of eliciting both great laughter and enormous shock. It aggressively tickles the funny bone, chills you with its twists and turns and provides a night of theater that will stay with you long after the curtain call. There’s never been anything like it.

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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