The Denver Post recently conducted a survey to determine the ten most important American plays from the past one hundred years. The resulting outcome produced standards such as Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Our Town, Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Glass Menagerie, A Raisin in the Sun, and Fences. It is fascinating to note however, that eight of these ten best tackled the subject of family.
The above unions were rarely happy, but always unforgettable. There is something to be said about suffocating ties that bind, generating unspoken truths simmering just below the surface.
Writers like Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and August Wilson, dared to explore taboo themes carefully packaged in a respectable, middle – class disguise.
Their work gave allowed audiences public catharsis, group therapy that paved the way for contemporary artists to push societal boundaries even further still.
Little Ones Theatre in Melbourne has gained a reputation for staging quality productions with a queer sensibility. Their previous shows have included hits like Psycho Beach Party, Salome, and Dangerous Liaisons.
It seems a natural choice that their latest project should be Wendy MacLeod’s 1990 cult classic, The House of Yes. This is escapism that takes the viewer to many dark corners of the known universe. In the Little One’s hands, the company has created an experience that is twisted, dangerous, high camp fun.
With a fast running time of 90 minutes, it should be noted that The House of Yes was also turned into a 1997 film starring Parker Posey and Tori Spelling.
Briefly summarizing the plot without spoiling the story, an unstable young woman newly released from psychiatric care, struggles to cope with the unexpected guest her twin brother brings home for Thanksgiving. Obsessed with the JFK assassination, she will do everything within her power to keep him from his fate.
A show that started life as a play, then a movie, in Little Ones’ hands becomes ambitiously filmic.
Eugyeene Teh’s set is split in two and neon – framed by a letterbox proscenium arch. His bold, pink vision gives the play a widescreen quality.
Teh, with Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt, dress the cast in form fitting glamour. Think catwalk couture meets The Sopranos. Together, their slick choices suit MacLeod’s killer dialogue down to the letter.
Sound design by Russell Goldsmith and Daniel Nixon reinforce that underbelly knife – edge. Hip musical interludes separate each scene.
Lighting by Katie Sfetkidis spotlights the action like a switch. We see the bare essentials; shocking secrets are alluded to only in shadow.
As Jackie-O, Genevieve Giuffre leads the experienced cast of five. Like a human black hole, Giuffre digs through a bottomless bag of tricks and draws you into her character’s realm. By turns protective and cavalier, it is impossible to tell if her Jackie-O is crazy or toying with the other characters simply for her own amusement. Giuffre clearly revels in lines such as, “I went through all this trouble to get sane, so you can't just leave.”
As Jackie-O’s rival and nemesis, Anna McCarthy is equally excellent as Lesly.
Reminiscent of the actress, Melanie Lynskey, McCarthy’s Lesly is apparently the single voice of reason. Her character goes barb for barb with her boyfriend’s unusual family; she refuses to be intimidated by their upper middle class antics. As the play’s designated straight man, McCarthy takes advantage of this challenging role and runs with it to the finish.
As her brothers, Marty (Benjamin Rigby) and Anthony (Paul Blenheim), both actors could not be more different. Yet as siblings, they succeed as two sides of the one coin. Blenheim plays Anthony as nebbish and awkward. Rigby as Marty, is too cool for school, yet a mysterious cipher beyond first impressions. We soon understand why.
One of the biggest pay – offs is the apparent stunt casting of Josh Price, as mother and matriarch, Mrs Pascal. Towering over the cast like a combination of Pamela Rabe and Richard O’Brien, he gives the play a stately mock – grandeur perfectly suited to the insanity. With some of the best dialogue such as, “A mother doesn't spy. A mother pays attention,” Price will leave you in stitches.
This show is another triumphant feather in the Little Ones Theatre’s ever -expanding cap. It’s Rocky Horror meets Douglas Sirk in deliciously cinemascope, time – warped glory.