Little Ones Theatre bring Wendy MacLeod's obsidian-black comedy, The House of Yes, to Theatre Works later this month. The play is essentially about people that have never been said no to but it is, oh, so much more than that.
Actor Genevieve Giuffre has been waiting it say yes to the piece for at least three years now.
She tells me her genesis moment occurred one day, on a bus in Sydney World Bondi …"when a one Ash Flanders (self proclaimed as Australia's sixth favourite comedic transvestite) said 'You. Need. To. Read.The. House. Of.Yes!'"
"I read, I made voice memo’s… I sent them out to stir the pot. Then our director Stephen Nicolazzo said YES!" The rest, as they say, is history!
Green Room Award winner, Giuffre, plays Jackie-O in MacLeod's satire that borders brilliantly on both the frivolous and the menacing.
The family are the Pascals, for whom the clock stopped with the Kennedy assassination. They are currently shut in as a Thanksgiving hurricane swirls outside. Arriving ahead of the storm's eye are Jackie-O's twin brother, Marty and his fiancée Lesly. The obsessive Jackie is keen to renew her long-running incestuous affair with Marty, which is fine by the mother, who's still lamenting her husband's desertion, and by puppyish younger brother Anthony who immediately desires Lesly. The resulting battle over Marty becomes something of a class struggle. Fascinatingly good stuff for any actor to immerse themselves in – as MacLeod describes it: "It is that tension between the Noel Coward veneer and the Pinteresque subtext that makes the play both funny and moving."
For Giuffre it is the cult family dynamic that appeals as well as doomed love stories involving incest and…"subconsciously, it reminded me of Quentin’s chapter in The Sound and the Fury and this other great novel, Damage."
I ask Giuffre to tell me a little about her character so, given the above, she fittingly chooses to respond with a quote from Emily Bronte's provocative sole novel Wuthering Heights:
“I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don't talk of our separation again: it is impracticable.” – Cathy, Wuthering Heights.
An interesting parallel given MacLeod's reveal that the title came from a graffiti she saw written on a bathroom wall: "We are living in a house of yes." And that made her think about Edgar Allan Poe and pornography and mostly about amorality.
The playwright MacLeod is an American and does write with an American sensibility and her work is universal, topical and immediate however, while The House of Yes does prod a horrific time in the history of the US, I wonder how deeply are Australian sensibilities are tied into that day in Texas in November 1963.
"What does KFC have to do with us, as Australians? Our audiences are deep fried in the American dream," says Giuffre. "From the work that is currently on our main stages here in Melbourne, to your HBO DVD collection, we all want in! Who wouldn’t want to get closer to the Kennedy’s? We Love the American nightmare too."
Three years in the making and the project has certainly inspired and challenged Giuffre:
"The joy has been watching these super fine actors and makers in the rehearsal room, and getting to work with everybody on building the world. The biggest challenge has been shutting my mouth, because I’m an ideas woman and I’m very Dutch, in that I have no background or family from there but I am very blunt, aggressive and ride a Gazelle."
Like Lesly, audiences will want in says Giuffre: "The play is set on the night of Thanksgiving and we actually preview on Thanksgiving! How serendipitous. This Show will be F-U-N with a capital YES and it’s in a HAUS. Besides it would be so good to see ya’ll before the year is out!"
November 27 – December 13