Saturday, November 12, 2011

RCP's 'The House of Yes' is a positively devious and delightful dark comedy

Seated: Kathy Newville; from left, Josh Austin, Gabrielle Lewis, Jon Browning and Kelly Schmehl
By Cheryl Thornburg
  If you like your comedy on the dark side, then Reading Community Players current production, "The House of Yes" could be right up your alley -- actually I should say right near THE Kennedy estate.
  Set in the Pascals' well-to-do home in suburban Washington D.C. on Thanksgiving Day two decades after JFK was assassinated, the play focuses on a family that takes the word dysfunctional to a whole new level.
  From the onset, it is easy to see that Jackie O, the daughter who has recently been released from a mental hospital, is the ringmaster in this bizarre household.  She is used to getting her way, and when she doesn't, there's hell to pay.
  Played to creepy perfection by Gabrielle Lewis, Jackie O has to be one of the most devious and deviant characters I've seen on stage in a long time. Her obsession with JFK's assassination, right down to dressing up as the real Jackie Kennedy, shows a deeply disturbed young woman. (Kudos to  costume designer Debbi Silas -- the pink suit and pillbox hat are right on.)
  But that just scratches the surface of her depravity -- her obsession with her twin brother, Marty, and their longstanding sexual relationship, are at the heart of the conflict inside the house while a hurricane rages outside.
   Jon Browning, veteran of many local musical theater productions, shows he's much more than a great voice.  He brings a sensitivity to the conflicted young man who is trying to break free from the unnatural relationship with his twin sister and just wants to be "normal."  When he arrives at the family home in the middle of the storm with his new fiancee, Lesly, tensions arise that are palpable.
  Kelly Elizabeth Schmehl plays Lesly, the young woman who doesn't meet the family's standards. Schmehl is particularly good in her interchanges with Jackie O as the two trade snappy retorts.
Gabrielle Lewis, Kelly Schmehl
  Lesly to Jackie: I don't think you're insane, I think you're just spoiled.
  Jackie: If everyone around here is going to start telling the truth, I'm going to bed.
  And playwright Wendy MacLeod's  dialogue is what makes this play special. Laughter ripples through the audience  as actors deliver one great line and comeback after another.
  Getting some of the best of those lines is Kathy Newville as Mrs. Pascal, mother of the twins and their younger brother, Anthony.  And Newville makes the most of them, with perfect timing to allow the audience to savor each one.
  As an appetizer, when accused of spying on her children, she replies, "A mother doesn't spy. A mother pays attention."
  Rounding out this quirky family is Josh Austin as the closer-to-normal younger brother, Anthony. Austin seems very natural on stage, bringing  a believability to his character in the midst of the more damaged family members.
  It is hard to imagine that a play with incest as a major part of its plot could be funny, but "The House of Yes" is just that  -- a very dark comedy that explores amorality  -- and as MacLeod herself described  is "about people who have never been said no to.”
  When director Ray Rhoads mentioned in his opening speech that the cast had had less than two weeks to rehearse together, I braced myself for a disappointing experience -- but Rhoads and his cast delivered a polished and satisfying performance -- one that is worth your time and money.
  As mentioned before the play includes issues, including incest, that make it not suitable for younger audiences.
  “The House of Yes” continues weekends through Nov. 20 at Reading Community Players located at 403 N. 11th St. in Reading. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students.
  A free shuttle service is provided from the 13th and Green Elementary School parking lot.
For more information, call 610-375-9106; email: or go to the website at

For up-to-date local theater happenings, follow me on Twitter @MercArtsCheryl


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