Existing somewhere between Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Addams Family, the aptly-named Yes Collective presents Wendy MacLeod’s black comedy, The House of Yes.
It’s Thanksgiving, and Marty’s return home is greatly anticipated by his twin sister, Jackie-O, his mother, and his younger brother. Arriving during a hurricane, the real storm brews inside the family home as dark secrets are revealed when Marty shows up with his new fiancée, Lesly.
Inspired by a house MacLeod had seen in an elegant suburb of Washington, D.C., there was something about the house that sparked her imagination.
“There was just something about this chic, moneyed house that made me want in. And Lesly begins the play wanting in,” says MacLeod in her online notes (warning: link may contain spoilers).
MacLeod goes onto say: “The play is about people that have never been said no to. It’s about an insularity I see in the upper classes, people who have cut themselves off from the rest of the world and are living by the rules they’ve invented.”
For Matt Fentiman, who directs the upcoming Vancouver production, it is also about our need to be loved and accepted. In this Q&A with the first-time director, and actor Missy Cross, who plays Jackie-O, we find out more.
This interview has been edited.
What parts of this 1990 American script do you think will resonate with a 21st century Canadian audience?
Fentiman: At the core of The House of Yes is this sense of longing, of needing to be loved and accepted. It is that desperate need that all of the characters share, albeit some on different levels than others, that first attracted me to this play and consequently was the very thing that I wanted to focus on with the actors from the beginning of the rehearsal process. Wanting to love and be loved is a timeless and borderless concept.
How do you prepare to direct a show like this?
Fentiman: A colleague advised me early in the process to gather as much information as I could about the play and other productions of the play which is exactly what I did.
I read an essay written by a woman who had directed the show, I read past reviews, watched the movie, and watched YouTube videos of productions. All of this with the goal to glean any insights into how to go about, and how to not go about, directing the show.
What has been the most exciting part of directing this show?
Fentiman: So far it has been watching the actors blossom and come to life in their respective parts. There have been countless moments for every actor where they were struggling with a section of the play and then one day the penny drops and they get it. What wonderful events to witness.
You and the cast do a lot of film work. Why is it important to produce and act in theatre as well?
Cross: My love of acting began in theatre, so it’s vital to me to be able to continue to play and explore the art in that arena. I think producing and acting in theatre gives me as an actor more control over my career in regard to the roles I get to play and the stories I tell. Doing a play is like taking a master class. The rehearsal process stretches you and having to maintain your energy through the entire show rather than just a couple minutes like you do in film is very cathartic.
What has been the biggest challenge in playing Jackie-O?
Cross: It has been first in finding her proper mental diagnosis and essentially finding the balance in her imbalance. I want the audience to both love and hate her. It was a challenge to find a way to allow her to have many different qualities. On paper, she could be perceived as purely a negative and mean person; I still want her to have a heart underneath it all.
What has been the best part of rehearsal?
Cross: The best part of rehearsal has been working with the language of the text and witnessing my cast mates in their process. I feel very fortunate to have gathered a dream team family for this show. They all bring so much emotional depth and comedy to the scenes, we laugh so much in rehearsals. Working with Matt on his first theatre directing gig has also been awesome, he’s such a natural, having done so much theatre as an actor himself. He’s companionate, playful and guides the way brilliantly.
What do you think the audience is going to experience?
Cross: I hope that the audience feels conflicted. Without giving too much away, there are relationship triangles that walk the line of ethics and morals, and so I hope people flip-flop between who they are rooting for, and have a laugh while doing so. It is such a well written play; the language and wit is so fun to follow. I think the audience will be tickled, surprised and even maybe a little horrified.
The House of Yes plays Studio 1398 on Granville Island from February 6-11. Tickets are available online at https://thehouseofyesplay.eventbrite.ca.