House of Yes

by Adam Brinklow

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday April 5, 2017

House of Yes

"The House of Yes" begins on Thanksgiving as a hurricane passes over Washington, D.C. and an estranged son returns home with a new fiancée in tow.

With that many omens converging on a single point, "Yes" has the makings of a pretty good opera. In fact, if anyone is working on that adaptation, please let us know.

In this Custom Made Theatre production directed by Stuart Bousel (of "Paradise Street" at the EXIT last year) Casey Robbins plays Marty, the prodigal son coming home from the big city to his affectedly tragic and wealthy mother and siblings.

Mom (Shelley Lynn Johnson) had a breakdown decades ago, decided she likes it well enough and lives perpetually at the low-frequency end of manic depression. Brother Anthony (self-described "loyal actor" Elliott Lieberman) is either a dimwit who lives off paint chips or a sociopath manipulator -- it goes back and forth.

And then there's Marty's twin sister Jackie (Caitlin Evenson), commonly known as Jackie O. because of her obsession with the Kennedy first lady and the assassination in '63.

Everybody of a certain generation seems obsessed with the Kennedy death. But in this case, the fetishization actually is a fetish. She's also obsessed with Marty. Intimately.

Family life here is like if Faulkner wrote "The Addams Family," or like "Fall of the House of Usher" without anyone being buried alive. Although come to think of it, that last one might still happen.

The first tip off that the Custom Made version of this cult hit from the '90s is going to work comes when Marty announces his engagement to the almost affectedly idyllic Lesly (Juliana Lustenader).

Jackie screams in pure horror. Lesly mistakes it for a happy scream and joins in. The audience can't take it and laughs for about a minute. And then everything is rolling right along.

The term "dark comedy" seems almost dismissive here. In reality, of course, there's nothing funny about mental illness, emotional abuse, incest (it comes up), or the possibility that your twin sister might smother you in your sleep because she doesn't like the color of the pills the doctors prescribed to prevent it. (That last one admittedly doesn't come up, in reality, all that often.)

But on Custom Made's small stage, on a set by Zoe Rosenfeld that looks very much like a home crazy people would think looks ordinary but doesn't, with a smart cast and a director who sincerely loves the material, "Yes" is very funny.

You could even argue it's an ideal play: short and incisive, pointed and witty, lurid and disturbing, and eternally topical, in that the warped feelings of privileged people probably never go out of fashion as a theme.

Evenson plays a perfect sadist, seeming to pity everything around her with each look. But pity, in this case, is not a symptom of compassion; it's more like an inconvenience she'd rather avoid.

The really screwed up thing is that watching Evenson and Robbins together makes you imagine the twins actually do have pretty good chemistry as a couple. Whereas it never seems likely that things are going to work out with dear Lesly.

Lieberman deserves special praise too among the cast for his ability to look perpetually out of place, like a crooked tooth in an otherwise flawless smile. He might have missed his calling as the Vincent Price-style host of a TV show about famous murders or something. Although we suppose it's not too late.

If "Yes" has a mortal wound anywhere, it's that the appeal curdles as the action turns from the witty and fascinatingly morbid toward real discomfort.

In this show, you end up feeling awkward not just about what you're watching, but also about your own enjoyment of what came before, which takes us out of the moment during the big finish.

If this "The House of Yes" managed to be seamlessly amusing (check), shocking (check) and provocative (there's the catch) all at once then it probably really would be the ideal play. But two out of three isn't bad. Not bad at all.

"The House of Yes" runs through April 29 at the Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street in San Francisco. For tickets and information, call 415-798-2682 or visit