Too Close for Comfort

Presenting challenging material onstage takes a certain amount of finesse. When discussing shows of this nature, one uses phrases like "selling" or "putting over" a concept to acknowledge the persuasiveness that is needed. It's important to respect the playwright's motives in creating this world while also respecting the audience's sensibilities by not sensationalizing the material any more than is warranted. In Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes, the audience meets the Pascal family from suburban D.C.: single mother Mrs. Pascal and her children, the high-strung Jackie-O and college dropout Anthony. They are preparing for Thanksgiving, an oncoming hurricane, and the return of Marty (Jackie's twin brother) from New York with a surprise guest - his fiancee, Lesly.

This close-knit clan has seemingly little respect for boundaries or social mores, and harbors very dirty secrets indeed. But how does a director introduce them and their lifestyle in a realistic way while also giving the audience permission to be shocked and skeptical?

Samsara Theatre Company tries to play it safe in their production, now running at the Roy Arias Theatre. The actors are subtle, the sets are simple and the costumes are mild. But by underdoing it, the show loses all edge and comes off two-dimensionally. The text has a sense of Tennessee Williams as played by the Kennedys, but its lush theatricality is missed by all by Maire-Rose Pike, who, as Jackie-O, comes closest to connecting to the world of the play.

Pike's mellow voice and polished attractiveness suit her role, and while she seems a bit unfocused at the beginning, she finds her bearings as the show goes on. Of course, as the recipient of the most delicious lines in MacLeod's script, Pike is given ample opportunity to shine.

The other actors come off as flat, or affected, or wooden, or a combination thereof. There is no chemistry between the characters, making it unclear why Jackie-O and Lesly are so devoted to Marty, why Anthony is smitten by Lesly, and why anyone is protective of Jackie-O.

Director Jason Kane, perhaps fearful of chewing up the scenery in their intimate theater space, curbs these performances when he should have drawn them out. The actors also seem to have blocking issues, resulting in a broken wine glass at one performance that had theatergoers concerned about potential injury to two cast members during the climactic scene.

According to the program, Samsara Theatre Company has been formed to showcase the talents of its cast and crew. Certainly, The House of Yes, with its small ensemble and daring subject matter, is a good vehicle for this aim. It's unfortunate that this production did not allow itself to be bold enough to meet the company's goals. How can you expect to stand out from the crowd if you insist on blending in?

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