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The Globe and Mail

House of Yes: Family dysfunction is front and centre in this risky dark comedy

Joanne Kelly stars as Jackie-O Pascal in House of Yes.

John Gundy

3 out of 4 stars

House of Yes
Written by
Wendy Macleod
Jakob Ehman, Carter Hayden, Joanne Kelly, Karen Knox and Joy Tanner
Benjamin Blais
The Storefront Theatre

Storefront Theatre's artistic director Benjamin Blais says that, with House of Yes, as with the rest of their first official season, they're taking a risk that could "blow up in their faces."

The play, which is by Wendy Macleod and was brought to Blais's attention by actor Joanne Kelly, is a monster of a dark comedy set in the eighties that takes as its themes incest and mental illness, but, you know, framed as a farce.

Though the subject matter is heavy, the production remains light, presenting its themes at face value. You won't be deeply moved, but if you treat the play as entertainment, you will be entertained.

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When a family that never entertains guests opens their doors to their son's fiancée for the first time, they can't seem to hold it together for Thanksgiving dinner.

Behind a façade of fake smiles and saucy dialogue, it's clear that the Pascals say yes to everything in their house, except to visitors. And they have a mighty good reason why.

With a nasty hurricane brewing outside, the characters are stuck in the house together – along with all their secrets and lies.

The bone-chilling, sometimes nauseating production fits the bill for taking a risk, with characters that are part archetype and part skin-crawlingly raw. They are caricatures but still have a core of honesty.

Under Blais's direction, the actors play up this duality, delivering moments of this-would-never-happen-in real-life excess and moments that had me recoiling in my seat with their realness.

This is especially evident with twins (and lovers) Jackie-O (Joanne Kelly) and Marty (Carter Hayden) Pascal, characters who alternate between moments of performed normalcy and genuine insanity throughout. Their relationship is repulsively vivid. Blais's direction doesn't leave much to the imagination in a chilling oral sex scene filled with sadistic role-play, based on Kelly's character's obsession with the Kennedy assassination.

Karen Knox's Lesley – Marty's fiancée– is positively oblivious; she slowly discovers her fiancé's dirty little secrets with properly timed moments of comedic awkwardness. Paired with Jakob Ehman's Anthony, who is trying to woo her throughout the course of the play, the two create an amusingly uncomfortable push/pull dynamic. (Ehman's New Jersey accent, presumably put on because his character attended Princeton for a couple of months, was just distracting – they could have ditched it and moved on.)

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Being overly dramatic, forgetful and downright creepy is clearly Joy Tanner's specialty. She is an audience favourite as Mrs. Pascal, who pops up everywhere, spying on the goings-on in her dysfunctional household.

Scenographer Claire Hill has designed a world that's vaudeville-meets-theatrical-realism. We have the old couches, the chairs and the real beverages lined up. We have melting ice cubes dripping onto the floor. And then we have plastic streamers hanging from the ceiling – inside, yet blowing in the wind of the hurricane.

The inclusion of the streamers is the element of the set that melds the theme of the play into the play's aesthetic. Practically, the streamers don't make sense. They feel wrong, they feel out of place, and they make you question why they are there. They induce the very same feeling that propels the entire plot of the play – the fact that in this seemingly normal house, there's something there that shouldn't be.

Considering this is their first season, Storefront Theatre seems to be overtly challenging themselves more than most indie companies would. This experimental production allows the actors to dive into an unsettling world and play with complex, taboo characters and relationships. It allows the creative team to test their audiences' tastes. This season is, in a way, like Storefront's very own dramatic laboratory. They feed you their strange, unsettling potion and then watch to see if you clutch your stomach on the way out.

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